LIVE: Dashboard Confessional / Cory Wells @ Deaf Institute, Manchester

By Gem Rogers

When Chris Carrabba said he’d be “back next year” during his 2018 tour, we probably weren’t the only ones who were a tiny bit sceptical. After all, it was the first time we’d seen Dashboard Confessional on our shores in ten years – surely we couldn’t be so lucky as to see him back again so soon? Well, as it turns out, we’re exactly that lucky, and Carrabba’s short run of intimate acoustic performances sold out in double quick time when they went on sale earlier this year. Tonight, for the second night of this five date UK run, we’re in Manchester’s Deaf Institute, home of the world’s most oversized disco ball (we’ll never get bored of it) and ugliest wallpaper (… that, we can probably leave).

It’s not often a support act is greeted with complete, reverent silence in the crowd during their set, and US melody merchant Cory Wells certainly deserves it. This is his first trip to the UK, coming just a few days before the release of debut album ‘The Way We Are’, and he seems just a little nervous – the crowd’s deafening silence might not be entirely helpful, in that regard – but his music speaks volumes for him as he sings about life and love without the sugarcoating. Interspersed with bursts of heartrending cries, there’s a passion and grit to Wells’ vocal performance that keeps all eyes on him – with a UK headline tour coming up in January, this is a talent we’ll be pleased to see more of in future.

Deaf Institute is the kind of room that, when sold out, becomes wall to wall humans, and tonight is very much one of those nights. Anyone arriving after Wells’ set has a squeeze on their hands to find a space, and there’s only 15 minutes to wait before an evening with Dashboard Confessional commences (we can definitely get behind these acoustic tour timings).

It’s not too surprising that the set is kicked off with ‘The Best Deceptions’, and the quiet from earlier persists a little longer than would normally be as the crowd seem to nervously debate joining in – is it rude to join in on an acoustic set? Are we allowed? Will someone tut, Britishly, if we do? Carrabba is having none of it, though, and with his encouragement a gentle choir eventually accompany him through an extended outro before he belts out an unfathomably clear and long final note – Dashboard Confessional has arrived, and it’s everything we always loved and admired.

The benefit of an acoustic set is that Carrabba is offered the freedom of almost his entire back catalogue (there are, as we discover, one or two exceptions), and after this first track he offers the rest of the set up as a requests show – “I will finish with ‘Hands Down’,” he says, “so you can request it. And I will play it. But then it’ll be the end.” This quiet humour carries throughout the evening, Carrabba being almost as much of a storyteller in words as in song (though with an occasional tendency to abandon his stories partway through). It’s a shame that, with the suggestion of requests on the table, he is occasionally drowned out by overenthusiastic and increasingly loud shouts of song titles, but the excitement can be forgiven – this is a rare and cherished opportunity.

The evening is, unsurprisingly, laden not only with fan favourites, but a comforting selection of deep cuts; ‘So Impossible’, ‘Age Six Racer’ and ‘As Lovers Go’ make very welcome appearances in this slightly epic 23 song setlist, while some of the best moments lie in the soft tones of ‘Dusk And Summer’ tracks. Any hesitance when it comes to singing along is long since gone, and Carrabba revels in the joy of it, sharing these much loved songs with 300 people who have grown up with his voice as the soundtrack to their most important moments. There’s a barely concealed surprise on his face, too, when just as many people sing along to 2018’s ‘Heart Beat Here’ as to ‘Screaming Infidelities’ and ‘Again I Go Unnoticed’ – this is an artist still easily capable of creating masterful songs that cement themselves in the hearts of his fans.

It would be difficult to select a highlight in this beautiful, calming hour and a half of music, though the haunting ‘Ghost Of A Good Thing’ offers a particularly heartrending moment, and a cover of Justin Bieber’s ‘Love Yourself’ elicits more than a few laughs (and, though we might not like to admit to knowing the words, it gets its own fairly solid singalong moment). The night must surely belong to the finale, though, as the room is filled with harmonies to ‘Vindicated’ and, of course, ‘Hands Down’. Dashboard Confessional continue to be a musical force to be reckoned with, one capable of generating the deepest feeling of joy and warmth – and with the news that Carrabba will be bringing the 20th Anniversary tour back next year, this is a feeling we could happily get used to.