Having a band in Austin, Texas, is a little like having a Mexican food restaurant in Tucson: If it's not great, it's out of business practically overnight.
Moonlight Towers is great. In fact, it's a current favorite of at least one Austin Chronicle music news writer. We know this, because he was among the half-dozen people who attended this show, and he said so. (Where were the rest of you, anyway? It's Tucson's 231st birthday. You're supposed to be out celebrating!)
Moonlight Towers performed a 20-song set in the Plush bar, with the kind of energy, animation and commitment that deserves the big room with a capacity crowd. Their alternately ringing, hard-charging, bouncing, swooning and power pop felt like a personal gift in that intimate space, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one struggling not to get off my chair and dance around like an idiot. But you know, when there are chairs for everyone, we sit. It's Pavlovian or something.
Drummer Richard Galloway seemed to hold back a bit at first in deference to the room size, but three songs in, he and the band were full throttle, leaving much of their own decorum in their wake. Multi-instrumentalist and lead-guitarist Jacob Schulze applied tasteful touches of keyboards and pedal steel, while bassist Jason Daniels played intriguing but disciplined bass parts, all arranged in service to James Stevens' songs about love's rougher edges. The overall effect was that of a tight unit in which every note and beat matters.
Hooks are Moonlight Towers' stock in trade; every song has a melody line, a chorus, a guitar part or an unexpected twist that will reach out and pull you in like a grapnel.
Soul-flavored songs, like "If We Make It to the Light" and "Born to Die," both from their 2005 release, Like You Were Never There, and the Cosmic American "Every Second Drags," which actually brought some two-steppers to their feet, kept the pace varied, as did the offbeat covers: Electric Light Orchestra's "Can't Get It Out of My Head," Big Star's "September Gurls," the Rolling Stones' "Moonlight Mile" and Television's "Marquee Moon."
Moonlight Towers takes its name from a lighting system Austin installed in 1895. Seventeen of the willowy, 150-foot spindles still stand, antiques looking for all the world like space needles or contemporary sculpture. This band is clearly in it for the long haul.