WEST PALM BEACH -- It's a rare thing to see a performer grow right before your eyes.
Locals have watched Boca Raton's Dashboard Confessional and its principal member, Chris Carrabba, go from playing solo shows at tiny area punk clubs to Tuesday's full-blown rock concert at Coral Sky Amphitheatre's new backstage.
Dashboard littered its 90-minute set with a number of new tunes that dramatically detail Carrabba's growth as a songwriter. The band started things slowly with a long lead-in allowing the sound man to fix an awful sound system that ruined sets from three promising opening acts. One of the new songs, So Beautiful, featured Carrabba's trademark percussive style of acoustic guitar playing and powerful vocals. Another new track, As Lovers Go, relied a little too much on the songwriter's devotion to Elvis Costello. But it was an untitled number that stood out most. Playing an electric guitar, Carrabba added a dose of his punk upbringing to the brand-new song with feedbacking guitars and heavy drums by Mike Marsh.
Carrabba first incorporated electric guitars into the group during the band's spring tour, instantly making Dashboard more dynamic than in its stripped-down acoustic past. On that tour Carrabba took a crowd favorite, Ender Will Save Us All, and turned it into a rock epic with crashing drums and frenzied playing. On Tuesday night, Ender kept its hard edge but wrapped up concisely after the five-minute mark.
What catapulted Dashboard Confessional to "vital artist" stature Tuesday were the perfected set arrangement and daring encore. The main set saw new songs mixed with fan favorites like The Good Fight and Again I Go Unnoticed as well as the radio single Screaming Infidelities, which Carrabba prefaced by saying, "This song's on the radio.... We're sorry."
But it was the encore that was a true surprise. Carrabba played all four songs from his band's So Impossible EP in order. From the whispered opening of For You To Notice to the cascading Remember to Breathe and celebratory Hands Down, the romantic story line of the EP was flawlessly recreated live. Hands Down seemed to end precisely at the three-minute mark, as any good pop song should, but Carrabba extended it with an improvisation that featured snippets of lyrics from his career. Inadvertently the move not only highlighted his past and songs unsung that evening but showed some of the repetitiveness in his tear-jerking early work.
The refrain then returned to the up-tempo chorus of Hands Down, ending in triumphant cymbal crashes and guitar flailing. It's rare to see bands of any genre radically changing their time-tested material as Dashboard did Tuesday. Those that do tend to last a very long time.
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