It’s easy to get worked up with nostalgia about a place, particularly one you got wasted in a lot. That seems to go doubly true on the St. Mary’s Strip, where any change to a beloved bar can whip up a frenzy (Saluté), or prove the kiss of death (Web House).
The recent drama over Limelight Music + Drinks seems to be entering into a similar state of nostalgia-fueled backlash. Having cemented its spot over the past decade as one of SA’s most reliable music venues, this year has proved as drama-heavy as they come for Limelight. First came the short-lived name change to the War Room, and most recently, the news that the Korova, increasingly infamous for spotty sound quality and contentious dealings with bands, would be assuming management. Needless to say, it’s had Limelight loyalists crying that familiar refrain of “it’s not the same.”
While I wouldn’t include myself in the Limelight loyalist camp, I won’t deny my affection for the place. As a spot to catch a wide range of local and national talent, swill $2 Lone Stars, and hang out with a staff personal enough to know by name, there was no better bar on the block (well, at least my block).
So on hearing a rumor that new head honcho Angel Castorena had installed the new sound system he spoke of in an earlier interview with the Current, I was hopeful for the renewed Limelight. (Ed. note: we received an email from a well-known local DJ that read “the new sound system is installed. It sounds super clean.”) I headed down to check things out for last Friday’s EP release showcase for Wild Party, with a bill also featuring Last Nighters, Langton Drive, and Rumors.
My optimism lasted all of about five minutes. Not only was it obvious that no new sound gear was in play, I was amazed that everything sounded appreciably worse than months before. (The air conditioner also seemed to be out, which pushed things into a new circle of hell.)
Limelight was never known for sound quality, and has long been in need of a new PA. But this night saw every instrument buried in a mush of mid-tones, the dull thud of the kick drum being about the only thing breaking up the drone. As I later learned, much of the sound issues stemmed from the recent departure of long-time soundman J.C. Noriega, who took much of Limelight’s equipment — which was his personal gear — and board know-how with him.
Kudos to the bands I caught for putting up valiant efforts to try and overcome the near constant monitor feedback, and a PA that produced all the sonic clarity of a megaphone. Adding insult to injury, the sound crew also appeared to be enacting a woeful policy of setting up the headliner’s gear first, leaving the other acts to squeeze their amps and selves onto whatever space remained on the tiny stage. Now I’ll grant that the headliner — in this case Wild Party, who did put on a fantastic show — did benefit from the extra sound care. But to basically assure that 75 percent of your music for the night is going to sound like shit doesn’t strike me as good strategy, and certainly isn’t fair to everyone else on the bill. The bands I spoke with were frustrated, some disappointed that a venue that for so long seemed like home turf suddenly felt against them. Again with the familiar chorus: “It’s just not the same.”
I can’t report all negative: The beer prices and selection are still great, the staff personable (though mostly unfamiliar now), and the bathroom improvements undertaken during the War Room stint still seem to be holding. But as I bolted out Limelight’s front gate, I struggled to place the new Limelight. With 502 Bar and Jack’s Bar now upping the game as far as sound quality, and Hi-Tones continuing to etch out its spot as the go-to venue on the Strip, I’m not sure where another music venue with persistently bad sound fits into this current landscape.
Granted this was the ‘Grand Re-Opening’ weekend, and Castorena and crew may have some new improvements coming down the pike. Other than a few shifted tables, I didn’t pick up on anything major last weekend. And perhaps Castorena will double down on the promise he made to permanently install the sound system “much like the one at the 502” in four to six weeks (made five weeks ago, if you’re keeping track at home). But much as I’d like to be optimistic and not wallow in the “it’s just not the same” mentality, dammit if the new Limelight isn’t making it hard.
2718 N St. Mary’s
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