In a too-small basement room inside the Academic Center of Washington, D.C.'s George Washington University, a band is -- in the tradition of D.C. emo greats like Rites of Spring and Embrace -- singing so passionately it sounds like crying. Brian Becker (who looks like the pudgier brother of Dashboard Confessional's heroically handsome Chris Carrabba) melodically yelps the lead vocal to Dashboard's sensitive sing-along ''Again I Go Unnoticed,'' crooning with his eyes closed and head held high. In place of the original's tautly strummed guitars, however, Becker's dozen bandmates are rhythmically chanting ''digga-digga, digga-digga, digga-digga.''
Emocapella are punk rock without the instruments. Or the punk. Or the rock. The all-male group does feature tunes from Biz Markie, Tenacious D, and the Beatles in its repertoire, but primarily it marries the harmonious histrionics of emo with collegiate a cappella, an amusingly nerdy wedding of sensitive-guy rock and that wimpiest of all campus pastimes.
GW juniors and emo fans Eric Denman (major: computer science) and Dan Riesser (major: electronic media) came up with Emocapella after attending an a cappella fest in spring 2001. Believing the impossible -- ''We could start an a cappella group that would be cool,'' Riesser recalls thinking -- the duo recruited friends, strangers, and band dorks from GW's orchestra (in which Denman plays French horn). Like any good group, Emocapella promptly got to work on their gang symbol, which takes three people to execute: One guy forms an E with the fingers of one hand and an M with the fingers of the other; another member's hands make a slightly heart-shaped O; and a third lad, wearing a long face, uses a finger to trace the track of a tear.
That key element in place, Emocapella made their live debut at GW in December 2001. Since then, concerts have mostly been guerrilla-style affairs: singing Jimmy Eat World and Alkaline Trio songs to campus drunks on the quad on a Thursday night. The guys dream of breaking big -- even opening for the bands whose songs they interpret -- but right now Emocapella are letting word trickle out via their website (www.gwu.edu/~emocap) and Internet message boards, where reaction to their not-exactly-hardcore ensemble has been mixed. ''One kid was telling me how much we suck,'' says Emocapella's Ted Blumenthal. ''I wrote back, 'If I ever see you, I'll hurt you.' Then the kid replied, 'What are you going to do? Cry in my general direction? Hit me with your backpack?'''