The omens are not good tonight. The Slimelight opens over an hour late, and even when the doors finally, grudgingly, crack open, nobody's allowed up to the live music floor. 'They're still soundchecking.' we're told. Still? Hmmm. Sounds like somebody's got problems. Eventually, we're permitted access to the inner sanctum, to find assorted band members wandering around in a state of apprehension. It seems the venue's regular sound engineer is absent, and his replacement is hardly a member of the A-team. The soundcheck was, by all accounts, something of an endurance test. The show itself hangs by a technical thread. Well, there's nothing for it but to plug in and make some noise. Here goes.
Zeitgeist Zero don't really play songs - their set is more like a collection of manic panics set to pell-mell electrobeats and assertive guitar. That's probably the best approach for tonight's gig, for it's obvious that the sound is hardly hi-fi. A murky rumble, a mid-range blare - it's loud, all right, but any detail is submurged in sonic sludge. Theresa Dead's vocals are lost in the mix (I'm using the word 'mix' loosely here), but the band get away with it on sheer in-your-faceness.
Projections flicker behind the performers - Betty Boop sashays through her surreal world in vintage monochrome, an appropriate icon for Zeitgeist Zero. Surely, if Betty Boop came over all punk rock and formed a band, she'd end up doing the Zeitgeist Zero thing. The set blatters unsteadily to a close on a tsunami of mangled sound, and while I dare say the experience won't go down in history as Zeitgeist Zero's finest moment, they did the right thing in keeping it brash and fast and just ploughing on. We'll call that a draw.
What probably helped Zeitgeist Zero in their struggles with their soundmix was the fact that they're a guitar/vocals/electronics band. With only a limited number of inputs going in to the desk, there's not all that much to mix, and therefore not all that much to fuck up. The Screaming Banshee Aircrew, on the other hand, are now a six-piece band with three vocalists, bass, drums, violin, keyboards, and one or two guitars, depending on the song. The default option of plug 'n' play isn't going to work here. We're going to need some production.
Unfortunately, it's apparent right from the start that the soundmix has descended into the Horribly Wrong zone, and it's not about to be hauled out. The PA spews forth an incoherent blare, randomly punctuated with bursts of feedback from a microphone on stage which, in spite of repeated requests from the band, never gets turned off (eventually Chris, SBA guitarist, wrenches the lead from the mic and the shrieking subsides).
Out front, it's a ghastly sonic mess, but the band nevertheless rock it up with as much aplomb as they can muster. While the soundtrack is mangled, at least it looks like a gig - although it's a case of trying to glimpse the band in the darkness, because nobody's turned the stage lighting on. On stage, I dare say the band feel like they're trying to stand up straight on a fairground waltzer - there are forces at work that are way outside your control, and they just keep trying to push you over.
But here's the thing: the crowd, who can't fail to be aware that things are going wrong, still dig it. For all the mashed-up sound and absence of lighting, the energy of the band still comes across. A bit of a mosh kicks off, and when the songs shudder to a conclusion there's plenty of applause (and at least one shout of 'Hang the engineer!'). It's interesting to speculate just how good this gig could've been, had the technical problems been vanquished, or at least if there was someone behind the desk who knew one end of a fader from the other.
As it is, the band wisely decide to quit while they're ahead. The set is cut short, and after a crash-and-burn romp through 'Hello Mister Hyde', it's all over. Well, that was a bit like trench warfare - over the top, a burst of pure chaos, then back home to pick up the pieces. In this case, the platoon survived against the odds, but I bet the Screaming Banshee Aircrew will be wary of returning to this battlefield in a hurry.
more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.