El Valiente to hang it up after 10 years

The beloved instrumental band’s final show will be April 9 at the Crystal Corner.

El Valiente are, from left to right, Kris Hansen, Eric Caldera, and Joe Bernstein. Photo by Connie Ward.

El Valiente are, from left to right, Kris Hansen, Eric Caldera, and Joe Bernstein. Photo by Connie Ward.

Madison trio El Valiente, who have built up an affectionate local following over the years with their sprawling and Western-tinged instrumentals, announced Monday that they’ll play their final show on April 9 at the Crystal Corner Bar.


From their start in 2006, El Valiente have brought something distinctive to Madison music and to instrumental rock as a whole. Guitarist Eric Caldera ranged from fierce noise-rock outbursts to prickly Telecaster twang. Drummer Joe Bernstein brought structure and dynamism to the band’s complex tunes, often while firing off nimble glockenspiel melodies with his left hand. Founding bassist David Sperka and current bassist Kris Hansen pulled off the tricky task of threading all that complexity together, sometimes doubling Caldera’s flickering melodies and sometimes hanging back to provide rhythmic grounding.

Caldera says there was “no real drama” behind the band's decision to break up. The trio remain good friends, but found themselves pulled in different directions by their personal and professional lives, as well as other bands—Caldera in Oedipus Tex, Hansen in Building On Buildings, and Bernstein in The Kissers. Bernstein says he also might be getting a new project started soon.

“Some of these tunes are pretty freakin’ hard, so more recently we had fallen into that trap of spending practice time going over old songs and writing sort of stagnated,” Caldera says. "It just happens to bands I guess, but I’m really proud to have kept El Valiente going this long. I’m really proud of El Valiente!”

Bernstein adds: "We had a good amount of productivity in the early years, but less so in last five or six.”

Hansen echoed the sentiment that it's been hard to keep the band moving forward while staying on top of the old material.

"The writing of this kind of music is pretty slow and if we can't get enough of it together and we end up rehearsing songs that we play live a lot, it isn't moving the ball forward,” Hansen says. "The songs are dense and need to get played often to keep them on the tips of the fingers."

The band has released three albums: El Topo in 2007, Daceton in 2009, and White Comanche in 2012. I like them all, but El Topo’s second track, “Emergency Caller/Utah Desert,” remains my favorite. The band did record some new music last summer, but Caldera says he isn’t happy with the recordings, thanks to some trouble with his amp.

On a personal note, I’ve listened to a lot of expansive, blustery-ass instrumental rock in my time, and El Valiente’s work has held up a lot better than the vast majority of it. I’ve seen them play many, many times over the years and always enjoyed their live sets a great deal. And I think it’s really cool and sweet that so many other people came out to support this band, in a town that too often neglects is strange musical treasures. El Valiente have done it right these past 10 years, and they will be missed.