Zilla :: 11.21.04 :: Aggie Theatre :: Ft. Collins, CO

After arriving promptly at the announced showtime like a couple of college freshmen, we waited a little over an hour as the sound crew tuned up to the sounds of Outkast in the background. The college-aged crowd slowly began to filter in and by showtime the theater was still filling up.

"Oh, hey -- and do you know if its 'Zill-a' or 'Zee-ya?'"


Zilla :: 11.21 by T. Voggesser
And with that useful tidbit in mind, I was now ready to see what the band had in store for the Fort Collins crowd. They are a band that I've wanted to catch for a bit and hadn't quite gotten around to. Zilla assembled the stage and their instrument arrangement alone piqued my interest: Michael Travis of The String Cheese Incident (drums) and Jamie Janover (percussion) were flanked on the front of the stage at the Aggie Theatre. I can't remember any other drummers I've seen that set up shop at the front of the stage, let alone two of 'em simultaneously. But then again, when the two are Travis and Janover, all semblances of standard conventions go out the window.

Zilla's fourth album hit stores in late November, and the Boulder quartet announced a two-night run in Colorado to support Crop Circle Brain Factory Vol. IV. All four members share a similar vision in creating music; all are self-taught and while the band is essentially a side project, all members play and react reflexively to one another remarkably well. Michael Travis anchors the sound as well as you would expect, and Janover adds texture with his work on percussion and his world-renowned prowess on the Hammered Dulcimer (Winner, National Hammered Dulcimer Championships 2003). The two had an electric synergy that fueled the band's performance throughout the night.

Janover & Travis :: 11.21 by T. Voggesser
As meaningless as labels are, Zilla would probably be tossed in the category of "techno jamband," though their actual sound is fairly diverse and bridges the gaps between funk, jazz-fusion, and world music. While those may be slightly more descriptive, it still doesn't really capture the essence of the band. After half an hour or so, the packed house at the Aggie began to warm up to the four Boulder musicians. Steve Vidiac provided nice layering work on the keys -- not running over anyone else's playing, but complementing the mix and propelling the music forward. Travis and Janover are easily one of the top drumming/percussion duos around, and their upbeat attitudes came through their playing and soon had the crowd enraptured.

Aaron Holstein :: 11.21
By T. Voggesser
Without implying that their songs have a similar feel to them, even an attentive listener may not realize the same song was repeated in a two-night stand. "Songs" is probably too strict of a term, as the two sets of music more closely resembled pulsating improvisational medleys that twisted and turned through a number of genres. There were only a handful of occasions where there was a transition or hook that was clearly definable, and the rest seemed to be created on the spot. Aaron Holstein (guitar, bass) was content to lie low for the most part, but always seemed to have an interesting contribution when given room to work. Most importantly, the band meshed together with ease and served up some of the most danceable music to hit these ears in some time.

The improvisation onstage was aided by a visual display that was constantly changing and harmonized well with the mood at the given moment. Unfortunately the layout of the Aggie didn't allow the kaleidoscopic imagery to be projected to the back of the stage, so they used a side wall instead. The majority of the crowd was essentially forced to choose between watching the band or watching the wall. Most chose the band.

Jamie Janover :: 11.21
By T. Voggesser
Zilla has functioned as a relatively loose group for the past couple years, with each member of the band involved with work in other projects. To think of the group as a "side project" would be a little misleading though -- it's more along the lines of an all-star collaboration among friends that happen to live near one another. Tickets were ten bucks or less, and the music got stronger as the night grew longer. The second set wound up being even more impressive than the first, but the playing was precise and inspired for the bulk of the night.

Not to take anything away from bands that get knee-deep in sonic explorations like Particle or STS9, but for my ears I'm often content after hearing them for an hour or so. I like it, but appreciate it most in smaller doses. Zilla is able to strike a nice balance with a fresh, yet stable footing and manage to maintain the crowd's collective energy in a number of different ways. The sound is more collaborative in nature and a great deal warmer than most other instrumental groups around. Most notably, the group has a sound that is more fluid and less linear. They also played at a variety of tempos, giving each other plenty of space and slowing things down as opposed to having two speeds: "on" and "off," as is the calling card of a number of other acts.

While the band has only toured west of the Mississippi thus far and sporadically at best, they are slated to play in the opulence of B.B. King's in New York City as well as Jam Cruise 3 early next year. Given that the NYC (12.30.04) date just happens to fall on the off-night of three performances by the String Cheese Incident, some guests should be expected during Zilla's performance in the Big Apple later this month. Most fans of improvisational music will appreciate what the band brings to the table, and the Travis/Janover show alone makes the drive worth every minute and the ticket worth every dollar.

Nathan Rodriguez
JamBase | Colorado
Go See Live Music!


[Published on: 12/6/04]

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