Words by: Chadbyrne R. Dickens | Images by: Jay Kopelman
Keller & The Keels :: 02.15.13 :: City Winery :: New York, NY
For those with a case of the winter blues, nothing can change your countenance like a shot of the pain Keller. On a frigid Friday night, February 15, at the spectacularly intimate City Winery in downtown Manhattan, Keller Williams and The Keels put forth an exemplary effort complete with an energetic and varied song catalog that won over a receptive crowd. Keller closed the set with his usual unique instrumental stylings and use of looping machines to create a full and distinguished sound. However, it was the first set when he was joined by Larry Keel (guitar) and his wife, Jenny Keel (upright bass) that had everyone frenetically excited and sharing adulation regarding it during set break.
Keller's current tour is in support of his 18th album, Keys, a benefit for The Rex Foundation, which recently dropped and is full of Grateful Dead covers played on the piano. Keller's next studio effort is Pick which is set for a July 3 release. With his boyish face and bowl haircut, Keller may resemble a grown up cousin Oliver from the Brady Bunch, but his guitar work is so intensely rewarding that even Johnny Bravo would want to emulate him. Some highlights included a short cover of the chorus to Beck's "Loser" segued into the Grateful Dead's "Loser" back into the Beck ditty with precision. Keller, adorning his traditional shoeless attire on stage, led the troops into a jam grass frenzy while singing in mockery, "the world needs another folk singer like a hole in the head" complete with the circus theme ala Phish does as part of 'their 'language.'
The trio delved into a myriad of varied covers including Kris Kristofferson, the Butthole Surfers and even "I like Sex and Candy" by Marcy Playground. The vast array of genres played was as effectively alluring as the varied arrangements Keller brings to each. The band tackled the Grateful Dead standard "Loser" and an exquisite cover version of the deep cut "Dupree's Diamond Blues", but it was the always poignant "Ramble on Rose", with Larry on lead vocals, that proved most energetic, rousing and resonated best with the older crowd. Larry often personalized the lyrics. Starting with "Just like crazy Keller" instead of "crazy Otto" and later he changed, "the grass ain't greener, the wine ain't sweeter" to "the wine ain't sweeter, the grass is legal on the other side on the coast".
As the traditional bluegrass songs were played, the atmosphere was akin to a fiery and up-tempo, knee-slappin hoedown with the versatile Williams effectively emulating a kazoo simply by humming in rhythm. With head bobbing in time and his legs crossed on his stool, Keller picked over Larry's strumming and Jenny chose proper places to fill with her contagious and confident bass thumps. There is no better showcase of the band's effectiveness in turning a classic into a surreal and mesmerizing take of their own as "Another Brick in the Wall", which buoyed the sit-down crowd into a trippy folk frenzy.
This night of revelry was a definitive one where the trite term, "there was something for everyone" would be accurate and apropos. It was a well-rounded night of music that could entertain a diehard aficionado of any genre. After a night involving wine and incomparable song from Keller Williams and company, it provided a more cozy and familiar inner warmth than a French Merlot and satiated one's soul until the next time life gets you down, and then one finds comfort in knowing a pain Keller is all you need.
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