The New York Times’ Jon Caramanica recently wrote that mainstream rock has become zombified, that even country music has shown more experimentation than rock in recent years. He raises some interesting points, but his article blows it by trying to define mainstream rock as something that encompasses both Nickelback and Lulu, the recent collaboration between Lou Reed and Metallica. In fact, those two have almost nothing in common besides being terrible. Rock isn’t dead, it’s just splintered off into dozens of subgenres, each with its own version of a mainstream and an avant-garde. There’s nothing at the center anymore.
Take Dashboard Confessional, the emo-pop project led by Florida singer-songwriter Chris Carrabba. Dashboard Confessional is as mainstream-sounding as American rock gets these days, but it’s not something you can talk about around the water cooler at work the way you can with Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, or Kanye West.
A veteran of several bands in the emo scene, Carrabba started Dashboard Confessional as a way of setting his melodic, romantic songs in a somewhat more sedate style. Mind you, that’s speaking relatively: Dashboard Confessional can get bombastic. Carrabba is at his best when he skips the added string sections and sweeping backup vocals and just sticks with acoustic instruments. (He’s playing solo acoustic on this tour.) But he’s not the type to stay subtle for long, and so even his most sparse arrangements burst into choruses designed to get suburban teenagers and their moms singing along. It’s easy to imagine Carrabba doing the same thing 25 or even 40 years ago and becoming a major mainstream rock star. But today he’s just a big star within the emo world.
DASHBOARD CONFESSIONAL: House of Blues, Friday, January 20, 8 p.m. 619-299-2583. $25, $35.