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Friday April 29th, 2005
Dashboard Confessional/Hot Rod Circuit/ John Ralston
Thompson Gym, Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, PA

Before I start this review I must admit something: As of late I admittedly have not been the biggest Dashboard fan.  I was a huge fan of the Summers Kiss EP as well as the first two full lengths Swiss Army Romance and The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most, but lead singer Chris Carrabba disappointed me with his latest foray into the more radio friendly sound of a full band with A Mission, A Mark, A Brand, A Scar.  Despite this, I was willing to spend the extra money to see him live, based on glowing reviews from several of my friends who had seen Dashboard in concert.

I was not disappointed.

The show was advertised as a “special acoustic set” by Chris sans backing band, being that on Saturday he was playing yet another special set with his former band, Further Seems Forever, at the Bamboozle music festival in New Jersey.  However, the opening act of John Ralston started the evening off with a full band (complete with female violinist) and a rousing set of songs primarily off his latest release, Needle Bed.  A pleasant, yet sometimes cutting mix between Ben Folds, Kevin Devine and The Rocket Summer, he managed to win the primarily high school age crowd over with his charismatic performance.  Nevertheless, it probably didn’t hurt that Chris himself made an appearance and joined in on one of the songs, much to the delight of the audience.

Next to perform was Hot Rod Circuit; a band whom I enjoy, but generally lump into the generic pop-punk category.  Their performance was purely acoustic, like Dashboard’s was slated to be, which gave them an uncharacteristic almost-country feel on many of their songs.  Despite this, they still put on a good set, with the audience singing along to one of their most popular songs, “The Pharmacist.”

Finally, Chris Carrabba himself, armed with only an acoustic guitar, took the stage to the raucous screams of the crowd. After marginal stage banter, he roared through almost two straight hours of story telling and music playing.  Attending a Dashboard show, I soon learned, is akin to a religious experience, with the crowd chanting and singing along quite possibly more than the revered singer himself.  Chris put together several medleys of songs, one of which included a cover of Weezer’s “Jamie” and another that ended with a nod to the popular show The OC with a portion of Phantom Planet’s “California.”  After playing most of his two newest albums and then some, he left the stage, then returned in about 5 minutes for an encore performance in response to the cheering from the crowd. This time, he brought friends.  John Ralston and his band joined him onstage for a full out onslaught on one’s ears with a rendition of the hit from the soundtrack for Spiderman-2, “Vindicated”, and Chris brought an end to his set (and the night) with an emotional “Hands Down.”  After two hours of an electric performance by Dashboard Confessional, the almost cult-like atmosphere that had surrounded the entire gym lifted as the lights came on.  Needless to say, Chris lived up to the hype, and that was one of the best nights I can ever remember.

-Allison Frank