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.
JamBase | The Big Apple
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Continue reading for a mini-feature on Keller and the WMD's by Martin Halo...
Word by: Martin Halo | Images by: Rod Snyder
Once, there was nothing more satisfying to me then the blues. I mean seriously, what could be better than a John Mayall record and a joint? Rod Stewart had his Faces, Mick Taylor immortalized the Rolling Stones, and Clapton became God. They were artists that dominated my soul. They were my bible, and I had comfortably numb tunnel vision with the headphones glued to my skull.
The jam scene wasn't even on my radar until about the age of 22. Now, I know what you are going to say, "How did you not know about the jam scene? What kind of man are you?" Well, the answer is simple: I'm from New York; we don't exactly have festivals in my neck of the woods. Our transcendence comes in the form of a dingy bar on Ludlow Street where nobody would think of adventuring into a solo for longer than thirty seconds.
Musicians, in a way, are kind of the same. Most don't have the eclectic tastes you might think. They travel the country incased in a bubble of nightly gigs and revolving barrooms. The last thing they are aware of is what is happening on the cusp of the scene. They listen to what they love and what inspires them. My own musical foundation was expanded by The Black Crowes. The Robinson Brothers turned me on to The Flying Burrito Brothers, Jimmie Rogers, Howlin' Wolf, David Crosby, The Jayhawks, Beachwood Sparks and a handful of others.
It took close to two years for all of the pieces of the American musical landscape to come into focus. The folkies of California, the hipsters of Brooklyn, the garage rock of the Pacific Northwest, the balladeers in the hills of Carolina, all fused to make up this country's voice. There were discoveries that were made within the process that stood out as unmistakably staggering. Keller Williams was one of them, a pure diamond in the ruff.
Although Keller made his mark as a one-man jam band with loops and tricks and treats galore, speaking to him now, it's his Weapons of Mass Destructions (featuring Keller, bassist Keith Moseley, guitarist Gibb Droll and drummer Jeff Sipe) that he's eager to discuss.
Williams & Moseley :: 02.21 :: NYC
"This project was all about timing," says Williams from his home in Fredericksburg, Virginia. "I have been doing the solo thing in the public eye for close to ten years now and I put myself in the shoes of the audience. I felt that it was time to set out and do something different."
The difference was assembling a supporting cast of musicians that Williams has been trying to organize for close to a decade.
"You have to understand, I was a fan of these guys," Williams offers. "Gibb Droll and Jeff Sipe came into my world around the same time. I was in my late teens. It was a very influential time in my playing career. I was much more of a sponge than I am now. Meaning, I was just absorbing everything!"
With a 60-song catalog rehearsed and in place, the WMD's hit the road in the fall of 2007 and again in early 2008 and left destruction in their wake.
"I believe in rhythm and the power of taking the listener out of the day-to-day thought process," says Keller. "I want to transfer them into something else that is not their routine stresses, because that is what happens to me. I get taken out of the long term and my entire thought process molds into what is happening when I am playing. It's all about the dance. It's all about the rhythm. It's all about the jazz and the disco."
JamBase | New York
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