Pittsburgh legends Don Caballero return with Punkgasm | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh legends Don Caballero return with Punkgasm

"You might have me confused with your purpose in life," the singer belts out, following it up with some unbelievable raspy squeals reminiscent of David Lee Roth. The rest of the band swaggers along with a rough-and-ready riff packing plenty of attitude. Meet the new Don Caballero. Or rather, the new new Don Cab.

That song, according to drummer and founder Damon Che, who sings it, can be "boiled down into 'a reluctant self-admittance after deep introspection as to whom one really is, and finding it worth partying over.'" It's also the title track to the band's new album, Punkgasm. "And it's just a debt to punk rock," Che says. "We owe more to punk than any other form of music, I think."

After disbanding during the American Don tour in 2000, few expected to hear from the Pittsburgh legends again. It had been a good run: Despite frequent member turnover, the groundbreaking band, led by Che, released five critically lauded albums on the Touch And Go label. So, it came as some surprise when Che launched a new lineup featuring members of Creta Bourzia, releasing World Class Listening Problem on the more metal-friendly Relapse label in 2006. Now Che, Eugene Doyle and Jason Jouver are back with the stylistically divergent Punkgasm -- which finds the traditionally instrumental band singing for the first time -- and a massive tour. But don't take it for granted.

"If you love yourself some Don Cab, you need to fuckin' show your support," says Che, with characteristic bluntness. "Now wouldn't be a good time to fuckin' shit in our Easter basket, if you know what I mean." While he's quite pleased with how they've been received so far on this tour, he's asking -- demanding, rather -- that fans "make us a little bit bigger if they want us to still keep doing this. Cause it's hard -- it's not the same as when you were a twentysomething."

A more persuasive enticement to catch Don Cab at Mr. Small's on Sat., Sept. 6 -- the honey instead of the vinegar, you might say -- is that material from the new album has a lot to offer.

The album opens with a nine-minute multipart composition, "Loudest Shop Vac in the World," featuring the band's trademark play across time-signatures and shattering dynamics. From there, the album splits into similar workouts -- like the heavy, metallic grooves of "Bulk Eye" and "Lord Kerpelka" -- and short excursions that find Don Cab lightly sketching out a number of different forms the tunes can take.

"Celestial Dusty Groove" is the first track to feature slick, high-pitched vocal harmonies, while "Pour You Into the Rug" opens with Che's unsettling crooning, before the Sabbathine thunder comes down. Also featuring vocals are "Why Is the Couch Always Wet?" a ballad-paced piece that swells into psychedelic grandeur reminiscent of The Secret Machines, and the new-wave snappy pop of "Dirty Looks."

All members contribute vocals -- and frankly, they sound so good you wonder why this is their first outing. "I think there's a whole, whole lot of not giving a shit about what anybody thinks anymore," says Che. "We just never felt compelled before, and we did now. If you wanna talk about what punk is, it's about no rules, man. Do what you feel like doing."

On 2006's World Class Listening Problem, the writing was a bit more rote, more predictably Don Cab, Che says. "Whereas this time we were really, really trying to make sure 'Now, this song fuckin' rules, right?' 'Yeah, I think it does.' 'OK good, we'll run with this then,'" He adds, "There's a lot more variety, a bigger spectrum, absolutely."

Longtime fans will still find plenty that hearkens back to the band's roots, such as the familiar tapping-style guitar passages that dominate "Challenge Jets." And of course, Che's virtuosic drumming style. "It's a pretty honest record," says Che. "You're going to get pretty much what you hear on the record, live." And hear it they will: Don Cab will be touring Europe in the fall, Japan in January and the West Coast in February.

In part, that touring schedule is the work of Relapse -- also home to another Pittsburgh band, Zombi -- who have "been able to do some really great things for us that Touch And Go wouldn't have cared to make happen, or couldn't make happen," says Che. He says relations with Touch And Go grew strained when the label stopped supporting its overseas tours.

But, he jokes, "I'm still waiting for video-game soundtracks and car commercials."


Don Caballero with Grand Buffet, Centipede E'est, Broughton's Rules. 8 p.m. Sat., Sept. 6. Mr. Small's Theatre, 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. $10-12. 412-821-4447 or www.mrsmalls.com

click to enlarge Hunting the Easter Bunny: Don Caballero - PHOTO: MATT DAYAK
Photo: Matt Dayak
Hunting the Easter Bunny: Don Caballero

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