Brand New – State College – The Crowbar, PA – 2002-06-06

Brand New
Where: State College – The Crowbar, PA.

When: 2002-06-06

Although I’ve never been one to pledge allegiance to the tear-stained banner of emo, the allure of seeing rising poster boy Chris Carrabba and the friends he employs to fill out the Dashboard Confessional lineup in the intensely intimate (read: suffocatingly small) Crowbar of State College, Pa., was too much for me to resist. Packed with a few hundred pre-20 hipsters, the aura was somewhat intimidating, though, and knowing the mass hysteria that once greeted bands like the Beatles, thoughts of stage stampeding and scratch fight riots entered my mind. Having been hanging out at the venue for approximately two and half hours, expecting the show to start at 7:30 when it actually began at 9, I was almost wishing it would happen.

Openers Brand New ripped through a set of high-energy pop-punk anthems, with all members (except the drummer, of course) repeatedly leaping in the air, tossing and catching their instruments, and breathlessly trying to scream out their somewhat indecipherable lyrics. It was an admirable performance to be sure, as lead vocalist Jesse Lacey certainly entertained as he literally bounced off the walls of the cramped space, hanging on the lighting beams, climbing on the posts that held up the ceiling, and almost getting attacked by the venue’s security in the process. Lead guitarist Vin Accardi gyrated as if having multiple seizures, and drummer Brain Lane seemed to be pleasantly unconcerned with the whole spectacle. And even as the band and the crowd seemed to have fun and genuinely feed off each other’s energy, the whole thing seemed a bit too manicured, as if their set was designed to be more performance than recital. Not that it wasn’t a persuasive performance, but I can’t say I remember much about any of their songs other than that I knew I’d heard about 1,000 others that sounded nearly exactly the same.

As Seville hit the stage, I realized they might just be the ugliest group of musicians I’d ever seen assembled on one stage – like a group of early 30’s substitute teachers who get together on the weekends to relive their college glory days. As would be expected, they were entirely more reserved, although they produced volume similar to the openers while producing a set of pleasantly bouncing emo-pop. Maneuvering through a variety of stops and starts, lead vocalist John Owens displayed some of the strongest pipes I’ve heard in years, almost reminiscent of Geddy Lee at times. Again, though, when the guys left the stage, sweaty and smiling, I couldn’t really recall a single song I’d just heard them perform.

By the time Dashboard Confessional arrived, I was beginning to be convinced that the modern rock scene really is as uninspired as I had feared. But where the other acts displayed only varying degrees of volume and charisma, Chris Carrabba and company brought a catalogue of crowd-pleasing hooks as well. With literally every kid in the place singing along (I felt kind of lonely being the only one that didn’t know any of the words), Carrabba allowed the crowd to finish his lines and fantasize that he was personally singing for them. And it’s not hard to see why, as his songs are filled with the memorable melodies and sincerely aching lyrics that can easily worm their way into the head and heart of your typical post-adolescent. Amazingly, Carrabba seems to be nearly as sincere as his persona, dedicating a song to a friend who he invited up on stage for a friendly kiss (probably making most every girl in the joint hate their boyfriend for a few seconds) and seeming to genuinely bask in the knowledge of having so many kids know every word of his songs. Further, his band was as tight as his uniformly solid arrangements, providing the perfect accompaniment to Carrabba’s ruminations on love and loss. His looks and charm may push him to future stardom, but Carrabba’s craftsmanship and knowledge of lining up the right songwriting elements for maximum appeal shouldn’t be overlooked.