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Monday, October 16, 2006

There I stand neath the Marquee Moon

With rain in the forecast for most of the weekend, I'm glad both of the outdoor shows I saw to went off without a hitch. Friday night was spent at the Amsterdam Bar with the Bracelets, Pegasus Now and the Happy Bullets. Saturday night was spent with Moonlight Towers at Lee Harvey's. I noticed with both shows how the bands sounded so much better because they were outdoors. I wondered how this was possible. Aren't outdoor shows supposed to be all thin-sounding?

With Friday's show being Andrea's final show for a while with the Bullets, I really wanted to come out. It didn't matter that the State Fair was wrapping up for the night one block away and parking was difficult -- I had to go. Some of my favorite songs feature her on lead vocals and I don't know if they'll perform them in her absence. So, after enjoying the Bracelets (whom I previously saw at Rubber Gloves sitting in front of the stage with only acoustic guitars and no mics), I was treated to a set where I actually heard everybody in Pegasus Now.

Pegasus Now's six-piece line-up features three guitars, two keyboards, three vocalists, one bassist and one drummer. This set-up can be a mixing console's nightmare as there is so much stuff going on at once. I had seen them a few months ago and the sound system sounded like it was shorting out. The vocals were constantly in the red, so they were frequently distorted. As much as I like their songs, I couldn't bear this distortion-fest, so I left.

With the band's set Friday night, I finally heard what Pegasus Now actually sounds like. Other than the vocals, keyboards and electronic drumpads going through the PA, nothing else was miked. There was no bad echo or sound bouncing off of walls -- it was there in the clean open air. This also helped the Happy Bullets' set.

Opening with fog and bubble machines going off, the Happy Bullets proceeded to play the same songs I've heard at every show for the last year. This is not a complaint, but that's what it was. This way, I knew that my favorite songs were coming and they came. As also seen with previous shows, the really fun part was when stuff started to not work. Josh's trumpet sounded muffled for some reason after a few songs and Rhett's bass drum pedal broke during the final song. They made due (Josh sang his trumpet parts, Rhett turned his bass drum on the side and hit it with his right hand) and they were good as usual.

No rain was expected in the forecast Friday night, but there was some rain predicted for late Saturday night. Getting to Lee Harvey's patio area just in time for Moonlight Towers to play, everything seemed clear in the air. Right as they started playing, the rain slowly came down. I stood on the patio with them as they kept playing. They played non-stop, doing every song that I believe they knew. Their originals rocked as usual and they also brought out a number of great cover songs. Covering the Beatles' "Dig a Pony," John Lennon's "(Just Like) Starting Over" and Television's "Marquee Moon," their set stretched to an hour and a half. With the rain finally lightening up, the lyrics to "Marquee Moon" had a special meaning as James sang them: "I recall lightning struck itself/I was listening to the rain/I was hearing something else."

Thinking they were finished after the 10+ minutes of "Marquee Moon," they were asked to play some more. Covering Guided By Voices' "Smothered in Hugs" and Roy Orbison's "Crying" and playing a few more originals, I got my fill as they finished for the night. Thankfully, with the rain stopping as they did their encore, more people were watching. Moonlight Towers were perfect for this setting, even in the rain.

Similar to the previous night, only vocals were going through the PA. Surprisingly, everything could be heard very clearly. So I wondered why was I finally getting to hear these bands like I was listening to their records.

I'm no soundboard wizard, but I know whenever you're putting everything through a mixer (from a floor tom to a lead vocal), some things aren't going to be as pronounced as others in the final mix. In the case of Pegasus Now, I rarely heard Chad's guitar/drumpad/keyboard set-up at previous shows. I could see that he was playing something, but I think I had to be onstage near him to hear him. This was not the case Friday night.

Now I'm not saying that all shows should be outside and small indoor venues make for muffled sound, but I was impressed by how both of these outdoor shows came across. While you couldn't feel a bass guitar or bass drum make your clothes move, you could hear each member without much concentration. Had these shows been in the middle of the summer or winter, I would've had a much different experience. These were the kind of nights that make fall in Texas fun.

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