Word by: Brian Bavosa | Images by: Mark Davidson
Keller Williams & the WMD's :: 02.21.08 :: Nokia Theatre :: New York, NY
"It's no secret that The String Cheese Incident has helped me big time in my career," says Keller Williams when talking about Breathe, the title track off of his 1999 release. The track is also on his latest offering, 12, where Keller picks one track from his previous eleven releases, along with one new tune to make up – you guessed it – his twelfth album.
It is only fair then that in keeping with his retrospective theme, Keller has returned to his roots of sharing the stage with others. Introduced to the jam band world through his relationship with SCI and the aforementioned Breathe, Williams has become a festival staple, often called "guitar's mad scientist" for his wild one-man antics.
The WMD's, with whom he toured with a bit last summer (and will again this coming summer), consists of bassist Keith Moseley (The String Cheese Incident), guitarist Gibb Droll and drummer Jeff Sipe (Aquarium Rescue Unit, Jazz is Dead), who recently accompanied Keller at New York's Nokia Theatre Times Square.
Upon entering, I was startled to see the back section and seats of the venue curtained off, something I never even knew they did. I should have expected it though, due to the 2-for-1 ticket promotion that Ticketmaster was bombarding my inbox with all week. The floor area was crowded, mostly with teenagers who were off for their mid-winter break. It appeared that more than a few ate the yellow snow because I saw many toss their cookies. Sadly, that seemed to occupy and entertain me more than the lazy, lackadaisical playing from the band in the first set..
Maybe that was the reason I felt uncomfortable and couldn't get into anything the band played during the first set. Even a hint of Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and Keller's mega-hippie-hit "Freeker by the Speaker" lacked the usual oomph and excitement they typically generate, even with gyrating images of a dancer projected on the screen behind the band. There were a few bright spots, including a cover of Porno for Pyros' "Pets," but overall the first half of the show barely kept my attention.
Williams & Moseley :: 02.21 :: NYC
The second set seemed a little more cohesive and a reminder that these musicians are all unique and talented in their own right. Sipe is a true driving force, much like a John Molo (Phil Lesh & Friends). Gibb Droll was essentially transparent in set one, but definitely stepped up in the second stretch. He can absolutely shred on the guitar, much like Buckethead, and showcased some fire-blazing riffs. I like SCI and Moseley, but I have never felt that he was exceptionally talented - merely above average - but I will say he thoroughly seemed to be enjoying himself and even showcased his guitar skills on one number.
There was a comical highlight in set two, where Keller sung about his buddy's dad smuggling pot over the border. Closing with a spirited cover of "Eyes of the World," a nod to his Grateful Dead touring days, sent me away feeling like a little fun and a touch of dance was better than none at all. The encore of "Best Feeling" was vintage Keller and had the underage masses grooving one last time, but still not enough to salvage this rather flat night.
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Continue reading for a mini-feature on Keller and the WMD's by Martin Halo...