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 sat in the back seat of a smelly car full of high school graduates. We were 18 year olds, idyllic in our fresh angst, speeding with the radio loud, bags of Doritos strewn, gas station fountain drinks in hand — all those cliche snacks from youth I’m still waiting to outgrow — we had what seemed a never ending supply.
Socially, I was a man of many cliques. Never a big partier, a little alcohol at a friend’s house, say, but never could I stomach drunkenness or drugs. What I was was morally malleable. This meant I could make a go at any social gathering with decent success. This particular 2004 outing was unique, socially speaking, for merging three disparate friend groups. I had my party friends, my church friends, and my actual friends. I remember sitting in that backseat with the sobering and unmasking feeling that comes with your friends meeting your other very different friends.
Punk, partier, and Christian — on our way in a caravan to San Jose. 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 was 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 had it all. He came for Thrice, who, back then, could still draw the angry punk rocker crowd. Benny didn’t have a ticket, we found out. “If one ticket opened up,” he theorized, “I’d take it.” But above all to remember here is that Benny, ever true to his own nature, boisterously hated Dashboard Confessional. He made fun of us for liking Dashboard Confessional. “Boo hoo, hoo,” Benny mocked, as if crying. (Dashboard Confessional had a reputation for sentimental songs that waxed breaking up with girlfriends and punching walls). The salient point is that at this stage in his life, Benny wasn’t the ideal person to share a motel with while seeing Dashboard Confessional. The other point is that Benny’s attendance was 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 got to the motel around 3 or so.
4 hours to kill, but I was nervous we’d be late. I really, really, really wanted to see The Get Up Kids. Many obstacles lay in the way. 1) The locale: Los Angeles being the usual concert destination, San Jose was a town in which we were unfamiliar. There was a good chance we’d get lost on the way to the venue. This being pre-iPhone, our hard printed and frequently wrong MapQuest was all we had. 2) Party friends liked to party: I think it was the moment the motel bathtub filled to the brim with ice I knew I’d miss the opening act.
“Guys,” I said, “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 came for the opening band. I liked Dashboard Confessional as much as anyone else at that time, if not more, and with Thrice riding the high of their hit record, The Artist in the Ambulance, everyone was stoked, especially me. That said, I was in love, LOVE, with The Get Up Kids’ Guilt Show. It’d go on to become one of my favorite records, and back then, with it only being out for a couple months at this point, I was at peak obsession.
“Guys,” I said, “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 got lost.
Also, my friend David earned a speeding ticket on the way, slowing us down even more. My post-punk prophecy came true after all: I had missed The Get Up Kids.
It was 8:05pm before we entered the San Jose State Event Center; I remember it vividly, for Thrice began their set the very moment we entered the inner sanctum of the capacious venue. A loud cymbal crash with a palm mute guitar twisted into a lead, and I knew it was “Under A Killing Moon” — track two from The Artist in the Ambulance. It was my first time seeing Thrice (I would later see them three other times). The energy, the fierceness — I was on the floor at the back of the mosh pit, but it didn’t matter. Every single body on that dance floor was moving and shaking and jumping and kicking, like the world was ending and we were dancing in its flames.
Thrice was incredible. Honestly I don’t say this from memory, but assumption. Thrice is always good. I would’ve remembered if they were bad. Looking up the set from this show, I find selections that any fan would expect: “Deadbolt,” “Cold Cash and Colder Hearts,” and (my personal favorite live song) “Silhouette.” I do remember Dustin Kensrue playing an acoustic version of “Stare at the Sun,” because at first it disappointed me. I was planning on rocking to this song SO HARD. Of course, by the end of the tune I was probably in 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 (we all pitched in) and I saw him head straight for the center of Thrice’s mosh pit. Entering the crowd his spiky mohawk popped above heads like shark fins breaching the surface. Eventually I lost track and assumed I’d see him after the show. This was good. I liked Benny enough, but what I really wanted was him far, far away from me; I wanted 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 was peak Dashboard, just so you know. A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar was almost a year old and fueling much of mainstream alt-rock radio and MTV. It peaked at Number 2 on the Billboard 200 charts, and remember: this was a time when people still bought records. My point is that the Dashboard Confessional I went to see that night was not the solo singer-songwriter sitting on a stool with an acoustic guitar, but a headlining act with a full band, a hit record, a light show, and thousands of adoring fans.
Dashboard hit the stage and they were gigantic, opening loud with “Rapid Hope Loss” and the fans were screaming. The band was rocking. In the audience some weird emo version of moshing occurred. The song, however, never finished. What happened 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 in 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 fought my friend. After what felt like 20 minutes of an awkward, showy affair, security guards captured Benny and promptly kicked him out. That was when the crowd cheered. Chris Carrabba unsheathed his guitar and the music shortly began again. I stood stunned.
It didn’t take long for Benny to sneak back in. When he did he found me and approached with an impish smile. “Can you believe that?” he yelled in my ear. I shook my head and I laughed. It was the only thing I could do. It’s the only thing I can still do.
Twelve 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 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 the show finish together. We were young men, back then, earnest, wild and laughing.