Earlier this year, beloved emo/alt rock outfit Dashboard Confessional announced a series of intimate shows at The Basement East to cap off a lengthy U.S. tour. Set to kick off tonight, Feb. 21 the band will play five performances over the course of a week (Feb. 21, 22, 23, 26, and 28), all of which are sold out (however, we’d strongly advise staying glued to social media if you couldn’t get tickets; some other surprises might be in the works).
Popular acts playing small rooms in Nashville is certainly not unheard of, especially at The Basement East, but these performances are especially meaningful for a number of reasons. After returning from a five year hiatus in 2015, they mark the first proper Dashboard shows in Nashville since the band have become locals, having relocated a few years back from Florida, and first in Music City overall in six years. They are also set to include an all-local slate of likeminded, emerging acts as openers (a decision, I’m told, flatteringly, was inspired by an article I penned for Noisey), including Secret Stuff, Bogues, Pale Lungs, Pocket Science, Daisyhead, YØUTH, Slow and Steady, and Body Origami.
Billed as “Homecoming Week,” Dashboard are using their platform not only as a way to showcase a sense of pride, and to do something special for their adopted hometown, but also as a way to provide a spotlight on so many deserving, supremely talented, and largely under the radar performers, who don’t get nearly enough due in creating a flourishing, communal, and scene-building space right underneath the Nashville establishment.
So, sure, Dashboard are doing something cool, for fans and for local bands, and that in of itself is commendable, but why are Dashboard Confessional and the scene they represent seeing such a huge resurgence of interest, and why should you be paying attention to them in 2017?
I could write a novel on the history, meaning, and convoluted definition of “emo,” and I realize that it’s become sort of a catch-all for anything sad, whiney, mall goth, or outside of the conventional punk bubble to the less-dialed in masses (leading many artists to avoid the label after its connotations became somewhat detrimental). And I, too, am certainly guilty of liberally using the term, and bending it to fit within my own definition at times, though I do see definite boundaries to its meaning. Formerly an offshot of hardcore, true emo’s roots can be traced to the ’80s, then perfected in the ’90s, where it fused with elements of indie rock, before becoming massively popular in the ’00s, largely thanks to groups like Dashboard Confessional.
Though it never really died, emo birthed a reactionary scene of bands mimicking the sound and motions, though not necessarily tapping into the ethos, by the mid and late ’00s, and as emo and complimentary-geared pop punk bands saw mainstream dominance and then commercial decline, the scene shifted back towards its niche (and more fitting) origins, prompting its artificial participants and copycats to fade away, and giving birth to a both renaissance of new bands, largely influenced by the genre’s golden age roots, as well as a revisionist burst of critical and commercial attention towards many bands who never really grew beyond modest success, paving the way for a series of reunions and returns. Over the past few years, this has all been dubbed the “emo revival,” and though it’s frustrating that the scene and many of its most important fixtures weren’t viewed with broader critical legitimacy 15 or 20 years ago, the shift in perspective from influential press outlets, and a growing and passionate audience, is still an amazing development.
As with any musical movement with decades of output, emo is complicated in 2017. Is a band like The 1975, who cite groups such as Dashboard Confessional (and who DC, in return, covered on a recent acoustic EP), emo? Not exactly, but that’s not to say the influence can’t be felt. So does an artist have to make music that calls directly back to the late ’90s or early ’00s to be authentic; what is our decade’s emo, or post-emo, or whatever a logical new iteration might be?
Rather than purely defining the sound and scene by genre lines, though they do exist, it feels more fitting to label acts by their common thread, and that thread is a shared emotional understanding, musical background, ethos, earnestness, and method of expression. That’s not to say that emo acts will all be shaped or informed by the same common experience; on the contrary, emo, itself a slice of the DIY/underground punk scene as a whole, is an environment where people of all backgrounds, worldviews, and walks of life can find a sense of community and a vessel of expression that connects them in a visceral, emotionally deconstructed way.
Sure, sometimes emo is sad, and that can be easy to turn into the butt of the joke (I have distinct memories of Dashboard frontman Chris Carrabba dodging the “sad guy” label back in the day), but sad works because sad is real. There are surely plenty of people who listen to music for its surface value – polished and pleasant sounds, catchy melodies, and the like – and while that can co-exist with depth, depth isn’t guaranteed. Those who listen to music for emotional resonance, which, while it lends itself sometimes to simplicity, doesn’t always equal sonically inferior or devoid of musicianship, tend to value the raw honesty and deconstructed nature of punk and emo, and around that common connection, musical communities are built.
In a global climate where the world is feeling increasingly more artificial, divisive, and isolated, finding something communal, an emotional connective tissue, a music scene that is not by any one group of people or for one any group of people, seems not just necessary, but urgent. All music, all art serves a function, and not all music and art need to have a built-in community to be legitimate, but while the conventional and hardcore punk world has certainly had its dangerous and tumultuous moments, and certain parts of the more artificial and reactionary pop punk and questionably “emo” scene (think, the Warped Tour crowd) have definitely proven a magnet for certain bad behaviors, the microcosm of emo and indie punk that has popped up in DIY spaces, and small towns, and within music scenes craving emotional substance, has largely seemed to hold a more inclusive, communal, and accepting reputation- even when scaled at a massive, mainstream level around acts like Dashboard, Jimmy Eat World, or Paramore.
Emo is “back” because we need something real again, because we need the support system and community that surrounds it, and because when bands and fans and local scenes take care of each other and find a common language, the world is better off. All this week in a cozy club in East Nashville, one of the genre’s greatest acts will, over the course of five nights, not only remind us why they’re so important, but also lead by example in enabling the next generation of artists to have a voice, creating a platform and broader community for positive discourse and more, relevant art. And that, as far as I’m concerned, makes them as important and essential as a band could possibly be.
Welcome home, Dashboard Confessional. We’re glad to have you back.