Don Caballero

Don Caballero

with the Champs

Echo Lounge, Atlanta • November 2, 1999

What is it that makes one band click, and another one clunk? This show featured two bands with similar line-ups and approaches, but I walked away wishing I’d never heard of one of them, and wondering when the other was coming back to town.

The Champs are from Santa Cruz, an instrumental three-piece of two guitars and drums. There was a lot of interplay between the guitarists, lots of time changes, and double-lead solos, and it all left me cold. I half-expected Ronnie James Dio to jump onstage and start howling an octave or two above dog-whistle range. They were obviously great musicians, technically proficient, but with all of the stop/start action and bizarro time signatures, they never really rocked.

Now, Don Caballero (from Philadelphia) is also an instrumental three-piece (bass, guitar, drums). I was a little uneasy to see the guitarist’s instrument tucked up under his armpit, that’s usually a sign of virtuoso nerds or Holiday Inn lounge bands.

But, what do I know? They started playing and kicked my ass. I’d heard them compared to Helmet, the Jesus Lizard, and Sonic Youth, but I thought it was more a mix of Yes and Fugazi — distinctive and complex, but powerful. I wondered how many fingers the guitarist had until I figured out he was looping his riffs, accompanying himself as they played back, looping that , then sitting back and enjoying the result. Both he and the bassist used hammering (you know, Eddie Van Halen-style) and assorted effects to create a unique sound that moshers and noodlers alike could enjoy. Plus, they rocked.

So, what was it, closer to the stage plus drunker equals “better”? East Coast vs. West Coast? I haven’t got a clue — if you figure it out, let me know.

Look for Don Cab’s records on Touch & Go.

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