Zilla, The Nightlight Lounge, Bellingham, WA- 3/29
Before Zilla had stepped foot onstage, its work was half done. Posted at the entrance to the Nightlight was a warning about the use of strobe lights during the performance; however, the notice could've read something like, "Brace yourself for a full sensory experience."
Black lights were strategically positioned around the club, streamers spilled down pillars and fluorescent three-dimensional geodesic shapes dangled from the low ceiling above the dance floor. Onstage, a table was set up in front of the band's gear. Littered with crystals of all sizes, a mini sphinx, dome-shaped lights and even a frog figurine, it was the centerpiece for the entire place. A giant stuffed toy snake wove through the legs of the table, a mushroom sat at the base of Jamie Janover's workspace and bullhorns towered behind bassist Aaron Holstein. Rubber jellyfish (and some kind of centipede-like creature) hung from the mics. And an artist had placed two blank canvases next to the stage; by the end of the night they were covered in day-glo paint, one depicting a water crystal, the other an eye.
This extensive display was the key to a portal, and when Zilla laid down the first few notes of its free-flowing ancient psychedelic sound, everyone (band included) was transported. In the audience a group of women wore fairy/butterfly wings and performance makeup, arriving at the show in order to "celebrate the arrival of spring" through dance. One man stood with a ventriloquist-looking monkey puppet on his arm. Yes, I know, we've all seen this kind of stuff at festivals and in the lot. But this was a Wednesday night in a relatively small town at a low-profile show.
Repetitive yet progressive, Zilla creates dance music. Ethereal hardcore dance music. String Cheese drummer Michael Travis established the foundation with his tight yet fierce beats, whipping his stylish salt and pepper mohawk around, matching the intensity of the current groove, every now and then looking to the crowd as if searching for affirmation. He repeatedly accelerated a jam with a rapid buildup on his snare, the audience acknowledging the climax by jumping up and down, pounding fists into the air, screaming for more more more. With virtually nonstop playing from Zilla the first set consisted of only two sections or "songs" timing out just over an hour, the second set longer with a few more pauses, but still a giant continuous jam everyone had a chance to get their fix.
Holstein doubled as the deliverer of low-end bass and various blips and beeps via samplers and keyboards. Clad in a Mod-style hat, a spiky studded belt and piercings to boot, he looked the picture of a raver as he danced amongst his electronic stands. Next door sat Janover who tapped into the centuries-old sounds of the Middle East with his hammered dulcimers. Halfway through the second set Janover pulled out a sitar and literally hypnotized the crowd, keeping the dulcimer hammer clenched between his lips, like a dog gripping a bone, ready and waiting for those moments when he was inclined to ting out a quick tune in between chords.
With Zilla's onstage approach intended to be 100 percent improvisational, the band traversed a spectrum of sound ahead to the 22nd century with samplers and Macintosh computers, turning from hip-hop to trance in a single fluid motion, and also behind, visiting African tribes through congas and Janover's stringed instruments. The journey became a bit long after two-plus hours of incessant jamming but a trip well worth taking nonetheless.