There are solo artists, and there is Keller Williams, who goes beyond "What is the sound of one man playing?" using a loop machine to combine bass, guitar, voice, djembe and even his own wacky "mouth fluegel." He creates a sound bigger than himself, and Thursday night he brought it all to Martyr’s in Chicago.
The first set began with an instrumental, with Keller showing off his fast finger skills on the 10-string acoustic guitar, and then sliding into a beautifully sung ode to his wife, "Dear Emily." But Keller does more than play and sing, and he got the crowd grooving to the danceable funk of DJ Keller’s "More Than a Little," which looped vocal beatboxing over a bass line, with Keller singing and rapping on top. His silly traveling sing-a-long, "Kidney in a Cooler," was a big crowd favorite, and because Keller insists in interviews that he is a "music lover first and a musician second," the set also featured an amusing cover of Billy Joel’s "Big Shot" as well as a gorgeous "Jack-a-Roe."
The always-steamy Martyr’s got even hotter during the second set, with Keller bringing out "Breathe," the title track to his latest CD, which features his friends The String Cheese Incident. The barefoot fans in the front row were floored during the next song, called "The Juggler," when Keller looped the riff, abandoned his guitar, snatched up three sandals from the front of the stage… and juggled them! As wowed as the crowd was by this, they appreciated the next song even more: a richly played, sincerely sung version of "Standing on the Moon," truly one of the night’s standout numbers.
The rest of the set mixed Keller originals like "Chillin’ Like a Villain," "Running on Fumes," "In the Middle" and "Two Dingalings" with more outrageous covers. Another highlight was a version of Zappa’s "Dancin’ Fool" so hilarious that Frank himself would have squirted milk out of his nose. Keller immediately followed this by a mouth-fluegeled version of disco classic "Stayin’ Alive." The overheated crowd got downright tribal during Keller’s djembe version of "Johnny B. Goode," during which he gave props to his "imaginary band." More originals like "No Habla Espanol," "Rockumal," "Stupid Questions," and his signature "Best Feeling" rounded out the set.
After a smokin’ instrumental encore and countless high fives, Keller finally left the stage at almost 1 a.m. Keller will play more dates in the Midwest in the next couple of weeks, including Gabe’s Oasis in Iowa City tonight, Duke O’Brien’s in Crystal Lake, IL on Saturday and Shank Hall in Milwaukee on Sunday.
- Susie Ochs, JamBase Chicago Correspondent
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