There are three things I remember about the Dashboard Confessional, Thrice and The Get Up Kids concert in San Jose, California in 2004:
- Chris Carrabba stopped the show mid-song and threatened to beat up my friend
- We missed The Get Up Kids, the band I most wanted to see, due to a speeding ticket
- A motel bathtub full of alcohol
All other details have been filled in by friend’s memories. It’s good to have friend’s memories corroborate an event like this, because, really, it makes for a very strange story.
Where do we start?
Highway 101 north of San Luis Obispo
I sit in the back seat of a smelly car full of high school graduates. We are 18 year olds, idyllic in our fresh angst, speeding with the radio loud, bags of Doritos strewn, gas station fountain drinks in hand — all these cliche snacks from youth — we have what seems to be a never ending supply.
Socially, I am a man of many cliques.
Not a big partier, a little alcohol at a friend’s house, say, but I have never been much for drunkenness or drugs. What I am is morally malleable. This means I can make a go at any social gathering with decent success. This particular outing is unique, socially speaking, for merging three disparate friend groups. I have my party friends, my church friends, and my actual friends, and as they merge my social fluidity is unmasked and I am sobered by my own inability to commit to any one group.
So here we are: punk, partier, and Christian on our way in a caravan to San Jose, California. Ahead of us lay three rooms in a louche motel with alcohol, cigarettes and concert tickets to the 2004 Honda Civic Tour.
The Swiss Army Bromance
I want you to meet someone and his name is Benny.
Benny is our resident punk rocker: shaved head with spiky mohawk, beat-up jean jacket adorned with obscure band patches and buttons, boots, a bad attitude, Benny has it all. He came for Thrice, who, at this point, can still draw from the angry punk rocker crowd. Benny doesn’t have a ticket, we find out. “If one ticket opened up,” he theorizes, “I’d take it.” But above all to remember here is that Benny, ever true to his own nature, boisterously hates Dashboard Confessional. He makes fun of us for liking Dashboard Confessional. “Boo hoo, hoo,” Benny mocks, as if crying. The salient point is that at this stage in his life, Benny isn’t the ideal person to share a motel with while seeing Dashboard Confessional. The other point is that Benny’s attendance is a side-effect of this mish-mash rock n’ roll lineup: Dashboard Confessional, Thrice and The Get Up Kids. I mean, who does that?
We get to the motel around 3pm or so.
4 hours to kill, but I am already nervous we’ll be late. I really, really, really want to see The Get Up Kids. Many obstacles lie in my way. 1) The locale: Los Angeles being the usual concert destination, San Jose is a town in which we are unfamiliar. There is a good chance we’ll get lost on the way to the venue. And this being pre-iPhone, our hard printed and frequently wrong MapQuest directions are all we have. 2) Party friends like to party: the moment motel bathtub fills to the brim with ice I know I’ll miss the opening act.
“Guys,” I say, “I don’t want to miss Get Up Kids.”
“We won’t miss Shut Up Kids, dude, don’t worry.”
“GET Up Kids.”
I do not mean to paint myself as the cool, indie-hipster kid, way ahead of his time, who only comes for the opening band. I like Dashboard Confessional as much as anyone else at this time, if not more, and with Thrice riding the high of their hit record, The Artist in the Ambulance, everyone is stoked, especially me. That said, I am in love, LOVE, with The Get Up Kids’ Guilt Show. It’ll go on to become one of my favorite records. Released for only a couple months at this point, I am at peak Guilt Show obsession.
“Guys,” I say, “it’s 6:15. Doors at 7!”
“That’s just doors, dude. Band probably won’t start until 7:30.”
“What if we get lost on the way?”
“It’s right down the street, dude. I looked it up on MapQuest, remember?”
We get lost.
Also, my friend David earns a speeding ticket on the way, slowing us down to what feels like an army crawl. My post-punk prophecy comes true after all: I have missed The Get Up Kids.
It is 8:05pm when we reach the San Jose State Event Center. Thrice begins their set the very moment we enter the inner sanctum of the capacious venue. A loud cymbal crash with a palm mute guitar twists into a lead, and I know immediately it is “Under A Killing Moon” — track two from The Artist in the Ambulance. It is my first time seeing Thrice (I would later see them three other times). I am on the floor at the back of the mosh pit, but it doesn’t matter: the energy, the fierceness is biting.
Thrice is incredible. The setlist is as one from this era would expect: “Deadbolt,” “Cold Cash and Colder Hearts,” and my personal favorite live song, “Silhouette.” Dustin Kensrue plays an acoustic version of “Stare at the Sun,” which at first disappoints me. I was planning on rocking to this song SO HARD. But of course, by the end of this tune I am moved to tears, like everyone else in the stadium, because his acoustic version is insane. Chris Carrabba probably watched from backstage, cursing his luck, knowing he was just beat at his own game.
My friend Benny poached himself a ticket (i.e., we all pitched in) and I see him head straight for the center of Thrice’s mosh pit. Entering the crowd his spiky mohawk pops above heads like shark fins breaching the surface. Eventually I lose track and assume I’ll see him after the show. This is good. I like Benny enough, but what I really want is him far, far away from me. I want to unabashedly join my fellow emo-ites in painfully earnest worship and praise of Dashboard Confessional without Benny’s mocking voice in my ear.
This is peak Dashboard, just so you know. A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar is almost a year old and fueling much of mainstream alt-rock radio and MTV (the album peaks at Number 2 on the Billboard 200 charts, and remember: this is a time when people still buy records). My point is that the Dashboard Confessional I am seeing tonight is not the timid singer-songwriter sitting on a stool with an acoustic guitar in a spotlight. Rather, this is a headlining act with a full band, a hit record, a light show, and thousands of adoring fans.
Dashboard hits the stage and they are gigantic, opening loud with “Rapid Hope Loss” and the fans are screaming. The band is rocking. In the audience some weird emo version of moshing occurrs. The song, however, never finishes. What happens next is something I’ll never forget.
(warning: explicit language follows)
Chris Carrabba, the singer of Dashboard Confessional, abruptly unstraps his guitar, sheaths it in a guitar stand, and defiantly stands with his arms crossed. The song slowly dies out as the rest of the band catches on, instrument by instrument, like a talking toy draining dead batteries. When I too realize what is happening I look to find a fuming Chris Carrabba, cursing and stomping and yelling at the audience. “What is happening,” Patrick, my friend, asks me. We are all dumbfounded. Is this a technical glitch?
And then Chris Carrabba speaks into the microphone: “Don’t worry, folks, we’ll get going in a minute. But first there’s this asshole in the front row calling me a pussy. Am I a pussy? Come on bro, say it to my face! Get up here. Come on, bro. Guys calling me a pussy and I won’t start until he says it again to my face. Come on, mother fucker! Come on!” My mouth drops. Patrick’s mouth drops. Everyone’s mouths drop. This cannot be happening, we collectively think.
Who would buy a ticket to a Dashboard Confessional concert just to call him a pussy?
Oh, of course.
It’s Benny, isn’t it.
Oh, good lord.
The next five minutes remain indelible in my brain.
Chris Carrabba doesn’t move a musical inch. I am feeling guilt, and shame, and a little bit of pride, knowing the truth. Sorry, emo-ites, my compadres. No music at the Honda Civic Tour until Chris Carrabba fights my friend.
The crowd is cheering things I don’t understand. Everyone is getting impatient and restless. I can’t see the front of the crowd but there is movement, as if the mosh pit were still churning, though the music dead. I realize Benny might not make it out of this emo concert alive. He is Bruce Willis on Armageddon’s asteroid.
Chris Carrabba has not calmed down. He is red, he is sweating. He is still yelling, on and off the microphone, bobbing up and down like an angry gorilla at a zoo.
And suddenly, cheering.
No one fights my friend. After what feels like 20 minutes of an awkward, showy affair, security guards capture Benny and promptly kick him out. Chris Carrabba unsheathes his guitar and the music shortly begins again. I stand stunned.
It doesn’t take long for Benny to sneak back in. When he does he finds me and approaches with an impish smile. “Can you believe that?” he yells in my ear. I shake my head and I laugh. It is the only thing I can think to do.
12 Years Later
I don’t know where Benny ended up or what he does. If he’s still out there, rocking the mohawk and black leather and boots, then God bless him. What I do know is that I respect him.
Who else can claim they were called out on stage to fight Chris Carrabba? I’m pretty sure the answer is no one. And if Benny hadn’t done that, then this concert, that whole trip, would’ve lost itself to flakey memory, the way so many other concerts have been lost. But Benny’s strange turn, though ignominious at the time, makes for a fun and strange memory, easily recalled and often enjoyed. I don’t condone Benny’s speech or his actions, but I do appreciate his heart and his courage — a contrarian swimming against a sea of zeitgeist.
The experience, I find, says more about Chris Carrabba than it does my friend Benny. I refuse to think of Carrabba as a man with a short fuse and a fighting temper, but I do wonder what his life must’ve been like back then. He was thrust into a national spotlight with a reputation for soft, sentimental songs that induced crying and emotion, and he held that continual feeling of proving himself as a bandleader and songwriter and man. How many times can a man listen to the word “pussy” being yelled from an audience, night after night, city after city, before he unhinges and snaps? At which tour stop did Carrabba begin to hear those hateful words louder than his own music? The jeers louder than the cheers?
The show went on. The band was excellent. Carrabba was great. Perhaps processing the evening, Benny stood in the back with me and Patrick and towards the end, David returned, then Keith, and also Jamie and finally Andrew — disparate friend groups, colliding on a dance floor, watching a concert finish together.
We were young men back then, earnest, wild and laughing.