What can I say? Keller Williams is an absolute treat to see live - simply amazing! I'm sure most of you are familiar with him, if not here's the lowdown. He plays an acoustical 10-string guitar, in a very unique style. A combination of playing his guitar like a guitar, and using it for percussive slaps, bangs, taps and knocks at the same time.
His sound is run through various pedal and loops, which he uses to construct complex landscapes of sounds. First laying down his rhythm, and then adding a lead, he builds the song he is playing right in front of your eyes. But Keller is not a one-instrument performer.
Along with the acoustic he has a bass, and on this night, an electric guitar. The two other instruments were set up on stands, clamped perfectly, so all he has to do is walk up to it and play. Oftentimes, a Dijembe will make an appearance, as well as whistles and chimes and on occasion I have witnessed him play walkie-talkies. This guy can make music with anything he picks up.
Aside from his skills on inanimate objects, this guy has one of the more soulful and pleasing voices, I have ever heard. Think of most of today's performers who bill themselves as vocalists... 98NsyncStreetBoys or whatever... What's that about?
Now think of the term "Jam Band", and what topnotch vocalist's come to mind? Not many for me... Hey, I loved Jerry's trippy moaning cigarette voice on SOTM and Stella as much as the next guy, but I never believed him to be a vocalist, and although I can never get me enough of that John Bell growling soul, I know he shouldn't be touring a capella. (However his turn at the Star Spangled Banner, back in '98 was more than just average, I thought he did extremely well with such a hard song.) With the loss of Reid Gaunner, the one standout in terms of having good pipes, it seems that Keller is it!
What I'm saying is, this guy can make some trouble for N'sync and those other boy bands if he ever wanted to try his hand at that genre. He has a great range, and his diction and enunciation are what give him his unique and, in my opinion, ground breaking style. His sets are loaded with a mix of original material, and often-unexpected covers. I say unexpected because oftentimes his unique take on the tempo or mood of the song, disguises it so much; it either takes you by surprise or it sounds like one of his own.
So with that in mind, we headed to the city known for it's cheese steaks and lousy sports teams. The night was clear and cool; we were ready for some live music. The bar is easy to find, and parking was found just up the street from it at the Ritz parking garage. A nice treat was the added security of a parking garage that only cost... one dollar!
[At this time in the review, you can now call me Tree Top! And if you don't get it, give Panic's The Waker a listen.]
Paying the $10 cover still felt like I was getting in for free, knowing what Keller is capable of. I made a mental note to appreciate him at this time in his career and for being so inexpensive at a venue as intimate as The Khyber. He is blowing up by the second and fearing his show won't work in a bigger venue, I'm thinking it's going to get a lot harder to find a Keller Williams ticket. Just by himself, he casts a spell that keeps even the most ardent critic of solo acts, fully mesmerized and in absolute jaw dropping awe. Kaboom!
This guy absolutely shines. You can see the positive energy swirling around his head, and it comes through in his playing. From the moment he takes the stage, you begin to feel as if your part of something unique and special. Something I have noticed in the four times I have seen him live is that he has a ritual of taking off his sock and/or shoes/flip flops etc. before he begins playing. I guess this is so he can have a better feel for his loop buttons, but I also think it's so he can let the channeled energy flow completely through him, with no rubberized ground getting in the way!
I also have a ritual. The last time I was at a Keller show, which happened to also be at the Khyber, I placed my good luck lizard (who accompanies me on all road trips) on Keller's mic stand. He stayed there for the entire show, even when Mr. Williams shook the mic stand around. Well, I figured that I had to continue the tradition. My lucky lizard once again enjoyed the best seat in the house, right at the feet of Keller.
Holding court right up front on stage left, the sound was clear and wonderful. I'm sure it's not as hard to tweak the sound for a solo act as it is for a large multi-person band, but Keller's soundman is exceptional. Aside from his skills with the wires, this guy can sing as well. Several times during the night, he lent his voice as backup to Keller and harmonized well with him. I called a few songs out to him while he was tuning, and a smile told me I would get the Henry I was after.
In order to emphasize the intimacy of this venue, my cell phone rang at one point and was clearly heard by those around me, including Keller. Not to worry, my good friend Chris took care of the situation with a well placed smack to the back of my head. I deserved it. Aside from the few chatterboxes, it was a pretty respectable crowd. Keller can really draw people into his own little world and as the night came to an end, it was clear that no one wanted to go home. So with the weird combination of perpendicular teeth, and mouth harp still ringing in my head, I headed back to the Mammoth's den.
If you have not seen him live yet, GO QUICKLY! Work like you don't need the money, love like you've never been hurt, and dance like nobody's watching!
Ron "Big Woolly Mammoth" Crowell
JamBase Reviewer/Evolutionary Reject
Partial Setlist from the mind of the Big Woolly Mammoth:
Kidney in a Cooler
Music Makes the people come together.???(Madonna)
Hide Your Love Away (instrumental)
Beautiful People? (U2)
Scooby Doo Song?
Tweaker by the Speaker
Running on Fumes
Another brick in the wall part 1&2>
Tell My Feet I Made It Home
Inhale to the Chief