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Zilla, The Jewish Mother, Virginia Beach, VA 11/30

It’s not often that a band gets the up-front respect Zilla does, from audiences that probably haven’t heard their music before seeing them on stage. Zilla gets most of that respect since their drummer is Michael Travis, of The String Cheese Incident.

I couldn’t even begin to name the songs in Zilla’s set list at The Jewish Mother a string of what reportedly always are completely improvised jams that I would think must be centered on some practiced themes. Zilla not only has a unique approach (although based in a trance style), but a unique sound, mostly thanks to Jamie Janover Hammered Dulcimer, various percussion, sitar and winner of the 2003 National Hammered Dulcimer Championship. Hammered dulcimers don’t get a lot of play time and Janover’s champion caliber melodies inspire awe a joyful and expressive sound. Travis plays a mix of hand and standard kit drums (like with SCI) and some laptop linked electric percussion. Aaron Holsten is the hinge pin, canvassing intuitive bass lines over Travis and Janover, while mixing in touches of electric guitar, and keys with various synthesizer patches.

Basically a between-tours project, Zilla’s off-the-cuff transitions weren’t completely tight, but most of the night was an expression of provoking stream-of-thought musicianship, played for lengthy stretches while staying creative. It’s something only technique proficient and muse-blessed artists could maintain. As it is with trance, at least personally, there were periods where monotony became an issue, but those periods were easily forgotten alongside the more wondrous elements.

Bluegrass and rock influences (expected with Travis and Janover) never reared heavily as Zilla seemed focused on its trance cycles, a shock for some people who mistakenly expected something more SCI. Just don’t confuse one project with another and Zilla has potential to make a mark of its own. Zilla’s heart is in the right, playing hard to a relatively small but devoted audience, and there’s no telling how far heart can push you.

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