Ruston Kelly recently unveiled shirts adorned with the words “Dirt Emo,” a pretty spot-on term to describe his sound that melds some Southern flourishes, like steel guitar and evocative, narrative songwriting, with the emotional draw — and communal cry-along quality — of emo’s best anthems. On Saturday night at Nashville’s Basement East, Kelly brought a dose of the purest emo around: an appearance from Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba, who took the stage to offer vocals on “Mercury,” a seminal track off of 2018’s Dying Star.
Carrabba teased the appearance via Dashboard Confessional’s Twitter feed on Friday, calling Kelly “one of my favorite singers” and later wrote that “it was one of the best experiences I’ve had playing music. No exaggeration.” The collaboration was part of a triumphant homecoming gig for Kelly, who has been on the road alongside the excellent Savannah Conley supporting Dying Star, one of Rolling Stone‘s best Country and Americana Albums of 2018.
Joined by his band, which includes his father and steel guitar player Tim “TK” Kelly and his sister, Abby Sevigny, Kelly led the crowd through the cathartic ups and downs of songs like “Faceplant” and “Trying to Let Her,” ending on his hilarious and self-aware “Asshole.”
Kelly will play his second sold-out night at the Basement East on Friday alongside Katie Pruitt.