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Dashboard Confessional: MTV Unplugged v2.0

The core concept of MTV's Unplugged concert series is that without studio sweetening and layers of accouterments, musicians' work must be judged on its own merits, for better and for worse. But what can the format reveal about singers whose music has already been stripped down to basic "unplugged" elements like acoustic guitars and raw, unpolished vocals? For Dashboard Confessional–led by Christopher Carrabba, whose catchy, angst-ridden, strum-along poetry readings have attracted a fervent cult following–the setting ironically piles on an unexpected distraction: Unplugged's audience, which begins shouting along with Carrabba less than 10 seconds into the album, and only occasionally lets up. The result is sometimes unintentionally funny (as when a hundred narcissistic teenagers sing "I'd rather you never heard my voice"), and it occasionally gives the songs an unsettling jolt of hormonal urgency. But, as with drum circles, audience participation is a lot more rewarding for the participants than the witnesses. (Naturally, Carrabba baits and abets the singalong, often letting the crowd fill in the blanks, and at one point encouraging them: "You guys sound good. Don't be shy.") Ultimately, though, the biggest problem with MTV Unplugged v2.0 is the same flaw that plagues Dashboard Confessional's studio work: Carrabba shares Alanis Morissette's creepy fetishization of victimhood, disguising purple, woe-is-me diary entries as cathartic empowerment. It's not that he misses his mark, as evidenced by the passion of his backing chorus, but that it's too easy to sympathize with the other half of the songs' doomed relationships. Somewhere, an ex-girlfriend is writing songs about the needy baby she wisely dumped.


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