Comic book superheroes have been plagued by an existential dilemma for decades: Where does, say, fictional millionaire Bruce Wayne end and his vigilante alter ego Batman begin? Or vice versa?
It’s the same problem that scholarly, mild-mannered musician Chris Carrabba is confronting. For the past 12 years, he has recorded and performed as outgoing Dashboard Confessional, and has been branded the tattooed tough guy of the emo movement.
“Dashboard is a strong reflection of who I was as a young adult,” says the serious songwriter, 36. “But I’m not a young adult anymore.”
Indeed. When the heartthrob hits The City next week — billed as “Dashboard Confessional, solo acoustic” — he’ll be backing his first album as Chris Carrabba, a covers anthology called “Covered in the Flood,” available at the show.
“I didn’t even consider calling this ‘Dashboard,’ because this is what I really do when I’m by myself,” he says. “I mean, if I’m at a party with friends, I’m not sitting there strumming one of my songs — I’ll play an Archers of Loaf song or something. So this is me, doing what I love, independent of any trappings.”
“Covered” offers a great glimpse into that Bruce Wayne identity.
In a folk-punkish plaint somewhere between Neil Young and Paul Westerberg, Carrabba croons heartfelt takes on Guy Clark (“The Cape”), John Prine (“Long Monday”), Justin Townes Earle (“Mama’s Eyes”), The Replacements (“Skyway”) and, of course, Archers of Loaf (“Web in Front”).
The most obvious pick is a molasses-slow reinvention of R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)”; the focus is on hidden gems such as Cory Branan’s “Tall Green Grass” and The Long Winters’ “The Commander Thinks Aloud.”
Carrabba is inquisitive by nature. “If I hear a song I love, I want to know how it works,” says the Floridian, who recently has been deconstructing Lyle Lovett’s wry “If I Had a Boat” to see what makes it tick.
“Covered” began by accident when he tracked Big Star’s “I’m in Love With a Girl” in his garage studio, and pet obscurities kept piling up. “I could talk about Guy Clark all day,” he says. “Because the artists I look up to have careers with different periods of expression, different kinds.”
Carrabba isn’t certain which name he’ll record under next (he also has reunited his old band Further Seems Forever). Just don’t call it emo.
“At first, it gives you notoriety, but there’s a point where it impedes any kind of growth,” he says of the moniker — and albatross. “So I had to back away from it. Quietly. And that’s basically what I’ve been doing for the past two years.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Slim’s, 333 11th St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 19
Tickets: $26 to $29