Emo Never Dies: On Seeing Dashboard Confessional Live

Photo by A. L. on Unsplash

here’s a good chance I’m feeling nostalgic for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’ve been watching The Mortified Guide on Netflix, which I was thrilled to discover based on how much I loved 2013’s Mortified Nation.

The upside to this series is how much it comforts me knowing that much of what I captured in the journals of my youth, no matter how monumental or traumatizing it felt at the time, was not singularly unique to my teenaged experience. (The catchphrase for the series — “We’re freaks, we’re fragile, and we all survived!” — is a testament to this fact.)

The downside is that, just like in 2013, watching the series enticed me to once again go journeying into the pages of those creased and dog-eared journals which, in spite of gleaning the occasional nugget of amusement, is an altogether uncomfortable and rather tragic affair. In fact, I’ve decided it’d probably be best if I were to burn those journals, every single one of them, never to relive the temptation again (something I might very well do now that we’re equipped with a wood-stove up to the task!).

Here’s the second reason I’m feeling nostalgic, which ties strangely into the first: this past November I discovered Dashboard Confessional would be performing where we live, and it was absolutely, one hundred per cent imperative that I not miss the show.

If there was any one musician that could symbolize my youth as perfectly as the pages of those journals, then hands down (har!) it would have to be Dashboard Confessional. Granted, the two don’t exactly align, with the journals having been penned during my four-year span of high school, and my obsession with Dashboard not budding until the summer after graduation, in 2001, the first time I heard Swiss Army Romance and suddenly realized there was A FREAKING SOUNDTRACK to capture every ounce of emotional angst saturating my 17 year-old existence.

And, to circle back to the journaling thing, I absolutely did not quit writing as a means of expressing this overwhelming and non-stop deluge of emotion. Rather, at a time when the World Wide Web was seeing its humble beginnings as a tool for networking and self-expression, I jumped aboard a revelatory new platform cutely named Diaryland, where I ventured into the realm of blogging out my feelings.

A few years later, disillusioned with the Diaryland’s limited customization, I made the momentous transition to LiveJournal where, for many, many years, I continued to narrate the details of my day-to-day-existence, chronicling the beginnings of R.’s and my relationship, the years spent as impoverished students and that awkward and questionable stretch of early-20s time pretending to be an adult (paying rent, buying groceries, working off student loan debt), but doing a pretty crappy job of it (ghetto apartment, Fruit Loops for dinner, borrowing more money from The Man).

For the record, I did in fact very recently go searching for the usernames and passwords for those long-neglected LiveJournal accounts (you know, ’cause you had to start a brand new one when you felt you’d outgrown the original) and proceeded to delete every single account I could recall (without saving or reading barely even a word). That, my friends, is the digital equivalent of throwing your journals into a blazing wood-stove, forever irretrievable.

As for the link to Dashboard Confessional, my infatuation with the band was captured through all those early years of blogging in, say, my use of an especially tender lyric as the subject to my post, or sometimes, when things were especially poignant, posting a song in its entirety as my solitary means of expression.

And it went beyond that, even. My first year of college I wrote what I recall being an especially compelling paper on the culture of emo music, with a special focus on Dashboard frontman Chris Carrabba (who, let it be told, has not aged even one bit and makes 42 look like a friggin’ cake walk!). And, when R. bought me the 2002 CD/DVD combo MTV Unplugged 2.0, I literally listened to (and sang aloud with!) the album non-stop, imagining myself as one of the few privileged enough to have experienced that show in all its acoustic, heart-wrenching glory (I still have that album tucked caringly away in a storage bin somewhere!).

But there’s more! When R. and I got married seven years ago, in 2011, I was absolutely fixated on having Dashboard’s Stolen be the song for our first dance. And it was — and it was magnificent! Excepting the fact that neither of us are skillful dancers, we went so far as to “choreograph” him lifting me up and turning me in sync with the line, “I watch you spin around / in your highest heels / You are the best one / of the best ones,” and still I get giddy little stomach spurts when I think about what a phenomenally beautiful moment that was.

And that — all of it! — is why it was imperative that I not miss Dashboard’s long-awaited performance in the here and now, these nearly two-decades later.

the months leading up to the show, I slowly began re-listening to all the songs I hadn’t heard in years, reliving equal measures of “THIS IS MAGNIFICENT POETRY” and “I sort of want to curl up and cry.” In the few days prior, I also outright OD’ed on the newest album, Crooked Shadows, (not so) secretly falling in love with each and every poppy, emo ballad in spite of my initial preconception that my musical tastes were probably too sophisticated nowadays to succumb to a sappy little line like, “I’m always going to be about us” (ahem, NOW FAVOURITE SONG ON THE ALBUM).

I had this idea in my head that most of the folks at the show would, like myself, be former punk rock princess wannabes still secretly holding as bright a flame as ever for the dark and enigmatic soul that always seemed to know just what to say (ahem, SECOND FAVOURITE).

And sure, there were plenty of girls in the crowd swooning over the one and only Chris Carrabba, with his signature punk meets rockabilly-esque sense of style and undisappointing, heart-swelling delivery of all our very favourite verses. But even more surprising was the number of lads just as captivated by the scene onstage, belting out every single lyric with bellowing precision.

Now, if only to momentarily break the spell of wonder that accompanied this long-awaited experience, there were a few small things that may or may not have bothered me ever so slightly, not all related to the exceptionally sweaty fellow in front of us repeatedly sweeping back his damp locks towards us, or the overly-intoxicated and overzealous couple who decided that every single song — even the slow ones, for pete’s sake! — deserved a boisterous dance routine requiring a one-metre circumference of clear floor space (thank heavens these two migrated elsewhere by the fourth or so song).

No, it was the fact that our darling Mr. Carrabba, on a few of occasions, seemed mildly annoyed by the crowd’s enthusiasm, to the point that when giving his little speech between each new song, and receiving the expected whoop’s and woo’s in response, he abruptly stopped mid-sentence as though the crowd were unruly toddlers in need of a stern lesson on manners.

That said, he also apologized early in the show for the fact the band would be playing some of their new stuff, so maybe this was all just rooted in the fact that he’s still playing the same, emotionally-fueled songs of more than a decade ago because, alas, it’s what the people want.

And for that, I forgive him. (R., perhaps less so, the words “prima donna” escaping his mouth during our post-show, drive-home debriefing…I forgive him, too.)

Overall, the show was better than I could have anticipated, with me declaring half-jokingly to R. that life will forever be marked by before seeing Dashboard live, and now.

here’s something extraordinary about the experience of live music, particularly when it comes to a band that’s accompanied you through so many years of change and growth. The music has defined some of my most fragile, formative and meaningful years, and reliving that all in such a profound way — seeing it performed in person amid a community of other people whose lives were also clearly influenced by the words and the songs, all packed into a whirlwind two hours — was really, really special.

I’ve actually been feeling appreciably bummed about the whole thing being over now, which seems perfectly normal in the hours after seeing a favourite musician, but days later? I’ve had the songs cycling through my head non-stop since we left the venue last Friday, and have even admittedly run through the discography at least a few times courtesy of Spotify, this quiet sense of mourning having a hand to play in being motivated to write this post in the first place.

Perhaps the mourning isn’t over the show itself ending, but for the big ways I’ve grown over the years, the music serving as a temporal indicator of the way things change (fortunately for the better).

Watching The Mortified Guide and listening to songs that used to make my heart positively ache with melancholy has triggered a whole cascade of reflection and remembrance, a renewed appreciation for the person I am now and the fledgling, tender being I once was.

It’s the turning of words into alchemy, and music into magic, and that’s pretty cool. That’s kind of a big deal, and one worth honouring.

(Originally written February 2018.)

“We’re all mad here.” Just another 30-something elder millennial writing from the heart about whatever. Oversharing is my specialty.

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