Review by Matt RichterType in Keller Williams, and Google will vomit a stomach-full of websites, his own and fan-based, saluting the one man band and his array of acoustic abilities. Not knowing much about Williams, I perused the laundry list of bios and histories. Keller first picked up a guitar at age three, learned chords at 13, debuted live in his hometown in Virginia at 16, and has since opened for national acts like String Cheese, sold out smaller venues on his own, and cranked out nearly a dozen records.
Photos by Matt Schwenke
Madison's Orpheum Theatre was sold out March 4, my first Williams experience. His acoustic talents are undeniable, but forgettable. His truly captivating moments were when he put down his guitar, turned away from the mic, and "looped."
Williams' stroll to center stage ignited the crowd, plugging in the chord to a sea of dreadlocked heads and bare shoulders, Mad Town's minion of jam band enthusiasts, reeking of Midwest's homegrown finest. Everyone knows the words to Keller's first unplugged jam, and the second and third. A bright spotlight frames his boyish curly frock, bouncing to his Beatles-esque head bob, resembling a young George Harrison, though not as charming. His acoustic picking and vocal tirade sound time-tested-and tired. His first tracks, to my novice ears, seem quarter-bought, dispensed in a plastic bubble from a red candy machine guarding the electric sliding entrance to the local Wal-Mart. I've heard this voice, these chords before, at every corner bar in every Midwest university town.
What I hadn't heard, and didn't anticipate, was Keller's multi-instrumental talents, his full-band sound, hiding in those first cliched tracks. A row of lonely string instruments and various electronic odds and ends surrounded center stage for the initial few songs, as if Williams was the latchkey kid of no-show back-up musicians. This wasn't the case. After the second or third unplugged jam on his acoustic, Williams began another track, this one with a thumping bass. He picked his guitar for two frames, then abandoned it for a bass guitar. He added another layer to the growing sound, next picking up two neon-colored tubes and beating his thighs, producing a Blue-Man-Group-type sound-yet another layer. Suddenly, this exhausted solo artist exploded with multi-instrumental ability, and the stage came alive with a full-band sound, the fruits of his "looping" expertise. Using his Gibson Echoplex Digital Pro, Williams brandished one of a dozen instruments/gadgets (including laser gloves he donned to manifest odd frequency-driven sounds), recorded a second or two of creativity, looped it and built on it, adding layer after layer until a blaring world beat shattered any lingering notions of the lonesome Americana singer/guitarist from the prior songs.
For two sets, interrupted only by a short intermission, Williams switched hats, from the solo artist to a pseudo-six, seven, or eight-piece funk/groove ensemble. He bounced from mediocre covers-two Dead tunes and even a little Police and Billy Joel-to rousing originals, tweaking each note to make them his own. Williams countered each bored return to his acoustical beginnings with a DJ-inspired electronica beat, and in the end, won my applause.
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