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Don Caballero follows the “Full House Theory.” Invented by drummer Damon Che, the theory states that when this Chicago-based indie-instrumental group performs a concert with a crowd of only ten to twenty people, they cannot do anything wild and crazy in fear of club owner repercussions.
In a packed venue, however, Don Caballero raises the roof—as well as club insurance rates. During the encore for one of their two previous Florida appearances, Che poured a pitcher of water onto every piece in his drum kit just before bashing them, water flailing everywhere. For the second show, he lit his drums on fire, and the band is returning to Florida....
Although strictly instrumental, Don Caballero engages the listener so intensely that vocals would only spoil the music. The band has earned fans in both post-rock and hardcore circles with a sound that utilizes irregular tempos, unconventional shifts in dynamics, and deafening, dissonant textures. Don Caballero strays from the analogue keyboard experiments of other instrumental-only bands. Che owns several vintage synthesizers, but broken oscillators and a lack of free time have them resting in his house like gravestones. As new traditionalists, the band strictly uses the rock ‘n’ roll basics: guitar, bass, and drums.
Their latest CD, What Burns Never Returns, sounds considerably “happier” than their previous efforts. They traded their tough, angst-filled fury for a positive-sounding, experimental vibe. Guitarists Ian Williams and Mike Bandfield apply a treble-heavy, free-form approach that’s more Sonic Youth than Korn. Critics cannot quite classify their brand of intricate and enigmatic music. “As a musician, I don’t sit around for someone to name what I do, I just fucking get off on it,” says Che. “By the time they named New Wave it was over.”
Due to the complex nature of Don Caballero’s music, the three other band members constantly look to Che during the live show to “make sure they take off right and land right.” But he does not consider himself the band’s principal songwriter. As a group, they find it easier to discuss T-shirt designs or album cover artwork than to talk to each other about the music itself. “We don’t communicate [verbally] very well,” Che says. “We communicate musically better.”
Nevertheless, the drums form the core of the Don Caballero experience, and the end results as heard on What Burns Never Returns is nothing short of stunning. In concert, the band is a must for anyone who has ever sat down on a drum stool or picked up a guitar. Heavy, loud, and cerebral, Don Caballero creates a world of their own.