My 2008 gig opener turned out to be a travel nightmare; Dashboard Confessional announced a short tour passing closest to Swindon at the Birmingham Academy 2, location of a very frustrating journey last time out (Hot Hot Heat). However, once found, a venue is normally easier - surely it couldn't be as bad again?
Actually, it turned out to be worse - I hot-footed up the M5 after a 6.30 departure, then, despite being armed with maps and directions, spent 45 minutes driving around a half-deserted Birmingham City Centre, temper and ire raising with every 3-point turn, dead end and clueless local. I finally chanced upon it over the other side of the Bullring, just as I was about ready to throw the towel in and drive home, and parked up, getting in at 10 to 9 and totally missing the support. D'oh! As it turned out, I was in the already-heaving little side-room venue only 10 minutes before Chris Carraba's on-stage time. What is it with Dashboard gigs and close shaves, anyway? Took a position at the back by the mixing desk, which at least afforded a decent view, for Chris' appearance at 9pm prompt.
Dashboard's recent "Poison Trees" CD was a more acoustic, stripped back affair, harking back to his "Places You Have Come To Fear The Most" beginnings after 2 "rock" albums. Appropriate therefore that this mini-tour was the naked Dashboard; Chris solo, armed only with guitar and bagfuls of angst. However, irrespective of format, the communality of the Dashboard gig remained, with most of the crowd singing along verbatim to most of the numbers. This, to my mind, detracted from some songs, especially early "Don't Wait", where Chris rather lazily let the crowd do the soaring, voice-cracking hook. Shame!
Things improved however, after "The Good Fight" and a fine "Screaming Infidelities" from that excellent first album. Carraba was a charming, self-deprecating stage presence, with quick wit throughout (e.g. Punter: "you've got a lot of songs about girls you've been with," Carraba: "well, if you had my job, would you have just one girl or lots?") and if he didn't win everyone over (particularly one guy who shouted, "bollocks," while Chris explained how songs have the power to transport you back to that one moment - Chris' response to that was, "shut the fuck up, dickhead!"), certainly most were on board with his stripped-back tales of personal love and heartbreak.
"Best Intentions", the best sung-along number of the night, nevertheless saw Chris challenging himself with lengthy-held high notes, emphasising the desolation of the subject matter. Finally, after a lengthy and slightly syrupy exhortation as to how much we the audience add to his songs by singing along, a superb "Hands Down", the apogee of the Dashboard canon, capped the set, the song climax stretched to breaking point, after which Chris hopped offstage to banter with the front rows after an uneven but absorbing 1 hour 40 minutes set. He's probably still there! I however hit the road and promptly got lost getting out of B'rum as well! Academy? Never again! Dashboard? Maybe, but hopefully closer next time!