Listening to Dashboard Confessional can sometimes be like picking at a scab or poking at a cavity — vaguely painful and enjoyable at the same time, weirdly compelling and hard to stop. But not because the music, masterminded by Boca Raton native Chris Carrabba, is unpleasant. Just the opposite — the charging tales of love-almost-always-lost are catchy as hell, with surprisingly off-kilter patterns that wrap up in neat, melodic circles. We're not sure what happened to hurt the delicately pretty, tattooed Carrabba so much, but it seems like it has happened to us too — and, uh, everyone else in his now-substantial audience.
Dashboard's fifth album, The Shade of Poison Trees, will be released October 2 on Vagrant Records. With each outing, Carrabba has moved further away from his more raw, mostly acoustic emo-tional outpourings and closer to a more studio-polished, expansive sound. But for his two-night stand this weekend at City Limits in Delray Beach, he returns to his roots: solo, just the man and his guitar, and in a relatively intimate setting (the club's capacity is just over 500). Sure, singing along to favorites like "Hands Down" might be an exercise in poking at sore spots in your romantic history. But it hurts so good.
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Opening act John Ralston, too, originally hails from Palm Beach County — Lake Worth, to be exact. Another sensitive type (so sensitive he has an official public LiveJournal page), he first made waves as frontman of Legends of Rodeo, a quartet of wistful rockers who never met a harmonica they didn't like. As a solo artist, he's something like a less-tortured Elliott Smith, a thoughtful songsmith with a knack for flawlessly tidy, literate musings on longing. His second album, Sorry Vampire, also drops on Vagrant the same day as Dashboard's. — Arielle Castillo