Saturday October 2nd, 1999 at The Bottleneck in Lawrence, KS
Don Caballero, Proudentall, & The String and Return

Don Caballero Don Caballero Proudentall The String & Return [more]

It doesn't rain all that much in Kansas, unless of course it's night and I'm heading over to Lawrence. Another rainy night puts me in the Taurus traveling down K-10 on the way to Lawrence for a show with an early (9:45) start time. $7 seemed a little steep but I heard that Don Caballero cost the club a few big ones in guarantee money so that explains the extra couple dollars tacked onto the ticket price - call it the wank tax.

Euphone cancelled at the last minute making room for Kansas City's The String and Return on the bill. Their music is lush, shoe-gazing indie rock with high delicate vocals. The band is a five piece with two guitars (Jaguar & Les Paul) that complement each other well. I had seen them before and commented on the way their songs highlight the excellent drumming, but tonight I was more focused on the ability of their lead guitarist. He displays an incredible skill to sculpt sounds (with only a minimum of effect pedals) that transport you into their slow and dreamy world (think Mogwai meets Pedro the Lion). In the closer, he played a searing guitar line that, although was a bit predictable, grew and swelled until it erupted in a explosion of controlled noise. Divine!

Because of The String and Return's long opening set, Proudentall were already facing a short set. Even shorter after equipment failures during Proudentall's lengthy set up. Throughout the band's existence they have toyed with different line-ups although recently they have been playing as a three piece adding Breeze on violin and Mike Walker on trombone for the first few songs in the set. Although it was hard to hear over Matt Dunehoo's guitar stack, it sounded like the band may have changed the violin parts from the last time I saw them, making them work better with the other instruments.

The band's set included a number of new songs which they plan to record next week with Ed Rose, and although the new material varies from climbing, drawn out rock numbers to short bursts of noisy energy the band is best when they keep their rhythmic songs to under three minutes with only minimal repetition. Although vocals are kept sparse, Dunehoo has created refrains and choruses for guitar using shifting and growing chord progressions that tell the story of the songs.

Around a hundred folks had found their way to the front of the club to watch Don Caballero set up their ample gear. I was expecting a four piece but only three came, That second guitar role had been changing around a lot lately anyway. When remaining guitarist Ian Williams and new bassist M Eric Topolsky [both of which also play in Storm & Stress] finished, they kicked a pedal, recorded a few plucked notes, and left the stage forcing a monotonous and repetitive four note pattern on the audience for fifteen minutes.

When the band returned they continued to punish the audience with their complicated musical (and non-musical) vision. And although drummer Damon Che complained several times that he was unable to hear himself [it was the first time I've ever heard a drummer ask for more of himself in the monitors], they were incredibly tight. Williams would often play a quick riff, record it on his pedal, then play an entirely different guitar part around the initial repeating riff - two guitars for the price of one! Their songs twisted and turned and returned, often without any reason - mathrock has order, this was chaos!

As I listened to the band I tried desperately to count their rhythms and anticipate the stops and changes but it only gave me a headache. I was not alone in my dismay as Danny Mac (drummer from often intensely complicated The Hillary Step) walked out shaking his head - it was too much for him too and by the end of their set the crowd had thinned to about thirty fans up front witnessing Don Caballero.

As I began to think what I would write in my review of the band's live show, I came to the conclusion that while I certainly appreciated the band for their instrumental mastery, their incredible originality, and their desire to create regardless of audience, it was all too much for me. The song structures of their earlier work have dissolved and we're left with three instruments soloing wildly and only occasionally syncing up for accent before spiraling off into another round of chaotic, but well orchestrated, noise.