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The Trillions and their self-made light show

 Richmond band The Trillions will bring the 'Trillionator' to their next gig at The Camel.
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Date published: 9/27/2012



Catch a performance by one of Virginia's most forward-thinking bands, the Trillions, and the first thing you'll notice is the music.

Two electric guitars trace patterns around each other, harmonizing and crisscrossing like voices in a choir. A bass rumbles down below, and the three instruments often join together to form unusual chords, with each musician stacking a single note into the mix.

Whenever things get too complex, vocalist Charlie Glenn turns on the charm with poppy melodies that add accessibility to the band's sound.

The second thing you'll notice is the light show.

"It all started with a dream I had," Glenn explained from his home in Richmond. "We were playing in Tennessee with a punk band called The Beams, and they blew us out of the water. All of their equipment lit up when they played. We refused to go on after them, because how can you top a lit-up punk band?"

Glenn relayed his dream to the others. A unique lighting system sounded cool, like the rock 'n' roll equivalent of synchronizing a house's Christmas lights to holiday music. Bass player Robbie King did some research, watched a few how-to videos on YouTube and eventually built the "Trillionator," a machine that uses electricity from the band's own instruments to power a homemade lighting rig.

"When you're playing guitar," King explained, "you're making a little bit of voltage with your DC signal. That triggers a transistor, which triggers a relay, which powers your 120-volt AC circuit, which lights you up."

Glenn has a simpler definition.

"It basically shows you which musician is playing which part," he clarified. "If I do something on guitar--like bam-bam-bam--then the lights go flash-flash-flash. It's a rhythm highlighter."

In other words, the Trillionator allows audiences to "see" each song as it's being performed. The lights pulse in time with the bass, glow steadily during a guitar solo and fade to black during the quieter moments. King recently put the final touches on a second version, Trillionator Mach 2, which gives him the ability to control the lighting with his feet.

"You don't have to count on a light person to work your show and be familiar with your songs," he said. "I can do it myself, onstage, while still playing."

Carrying the Trillionator from gig to gig isn't always easy. The machine itself is compact, roughly half the size of a guitar case, but the lighting rig is massive. Guitar player Chris Smith thinks it might be as large as two dining room tables; Glenn likens it to "a small Velociraptor."

Even so, the Trillions plan to bring the whole shebang to their Oct. 5 show at The Camel. The band's concerts--part rock show, part art installation--have earned the guys a growing reputation on the East Coast, not to mention a spot in this year's InLight Festival, an annual art exhibition held in downtown Richmond. The Trillions aren't a novelty act, though, and they're comfortable leaving the Trillionator at home. Strip away all those lights, and the songs still shine.

Remember: The music is what you notice first.

Andrew Leahey is a Nashville cat born and bred in Virginia.

What: The Trillions with Black Girls and Zulu Pearls Where: The Camel, 1621 W. Broad St., Richmond. When: Friday, Oct. 5, at 8 p.m. Cost: $6 Info: thecamel.org thetrillionsband.com