Much has been said in popular media about the millennial zeitgeist, almost all of it wrong. But though even the term itself is fraught with false generalizations, it’s hard to deny that 20-somethings seem to be connected — musically, at least — by an acute predilection for nostalgia. Ask any DJ. Literally any song that was popular in 2005 is guaranteed to be an instant banger at the club, genre be damned. Nothing gets a crowd going like “Mr. Brightside.”
On Friday night, The Masonic was packed with mid-20-year-olds waiting to see two bands no one has listened to regularly in more than a decade. Both The All-American Rejects and Dashboard Confessional peaked in popularity in and around 2005, and haven’t released albums in more than five years.
One wonders at the magnetic pull this narrow slice of musical history has on us. Maybe middle school just really sucked that badly, and it was our cathartic escape. Maybe we’re a generation faced with little job security, a dying planet and Donald Trump — in short, happy to spend a Friday night looking back and remembering when our biggest problems were school dances and homework.
Funnily enough, both bands seemed to know the score, performing with an almost fourth-wall-breaking degree of self-awareness. Tyson Ritter of The All-American Rejects grasped the situation perfectly, outright calling out the crowd: “How many of you loved us in 2005 and this is your first show?” he asked. Thankfully, neither band displayed a sense of offense at the thought — Ritter joked that this was the better way to go, given everyone was old enough to enjoy a concert without crowd theatrics and with an adult beverage.
Both bands are on the road to prepare — hopefully — for being relevant again.
“We have a new record coming out,” Dashboard Confessional frontman Chris Carrabba said to cheers. “But I’ll be straight with ya’ll,” he said, pausing for effect. “I like our old shit better.”
The audience laughed, but Carrabba continued, “We’re trying to find our way back to that — you’ll be the judge.”
It’s an understandable sentiment, though whether there is place for third-wave emo in 2017 remains to be seen. At the show at least, the now-42-year-old Carrabba stuck to the basics: a runthrough of the songs 13-year-old fans had poured their hearts into all those years ago. Resplendent in a full-arm sleeve tattoo of Hokusai’s “The Great Wave,” Carrabba held the spotlight for the duration of the set, backed by a shadow band that for all its talent couldn’t escape the reality that Dashboard Confessional is, for all intents and purposes, a one-man band.
Throughout the set, Carrabba stopped to talk with the crowd, discussing the good ol’ days and plugging the band’s shirts — accurately describing an industry in which band merchandise is the most direct way to support an artist. He dropped power chords with a flourish and showed off his still-impressive vocal range — one perfect for the choruses and long-held notes of the genre.
A decade ago, one might’ve moshed around to popular hits like “Hands Down” — and actually held up a real lighter to “Stolen” — but the crowd at The Masonic was subdued as they sang along, seemingly content to swim in hazy memories instead.
Dashboard Confessional’s brand of third-wave, mainstream emo harkens to a critical turning point in the music industry as a whole; the explosion of online streaming, YouTube, indie labels, Bandcamp and the internet stole the limelight from MTV and VH1. The ‘90s concept of a corporately curated selection of bands to devote loyalty to has slid into the noise of infinite selection.
But for that last generation of bands that accumulated massive, dedicated followings through persistent airplay and a tapping-into of the then-teenage mindset, the dividends are still being paid. These bands may not have released new music in recent memory, but they can still sell out venues on the strength of fan loyalty, nostalgia and raw performing ability. And you know what? It was a damn good time.