Keller Williams | 02.21.09

keller_williams_live_shot_closeup.jpgMusic literally explodes out of this man.

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The Pageant, St. Louis

Keller Williams is one of the most talented and versatile musicians playing today that most people have never heard of; but they should. No, he isn’t the owner of an international real estate company. He is a one-man musical tour de force, and one to be reckoned with. Williams has built an impressive career on his even more impressive ability to captivate an audience all by himself, and he’s been called "music’s mad-scientist."
 
At more than 100 live shows a year, Williams moves effortlessly from guitar to bass to percussion stations, using digital looping effects to literally "accompany" himself, creating rich layers of sound. Like his beloved Grateful Dead, he has built a loyal fan base through his unique live performance experience.

I first saw Keller Williams about seven years ago, on a cold December night in Chicago at the Vic Theater opening for Grateful Dead tribute band Dark Star Orchestra. At the time, he didn’t even have the looping technology – it was just him and an acoustic guitar. Yet, even then, he commanded an audience of nearly 2,000 people.

Last year, I had the unique pleasure of experiencing Williams perform at The Pageant with a full band (the WMDs) – which was an entirely different show. As amazing as the music is that he makes all on his own, it’s just as amazing if not more when he collaborates. This is evident on his last release, 2008’s LIVE featuring Keith Moseley on bass (The String Cheese Incident), Gibb Droll on guitar (Marc Broussard, Brandi Carlile), and Jeff Sipe on drums (Aquarium Rescue Unit, Leftover Salmon). Recorded at select live shows during the winter 2008 tour, LIVE features seventeen tracks spanning Williams’ career.

On the current tour, however, he is back to doing what he is best known for – delighting audiences on his own with his arsenal of instruments including probably 20 guitars, mandolin, upright bass, keyboards and even his mouth. Williams not only sings, but also has the ability to create percussion and even trumpet sounds with his mouth. Music literally explodes out of this man.

On the Saturday night of Mardi Gras weekend in St. Louis, his show seemed for many the perfect ending to a long day of partying. In fact, Wiliams himself took part in the revelry, serving as the Grand Marshall of this year’s Mardi Gras parade. He put on a hell of a show considering he admitted to having started drinking around 9 a.m.

Mardi Gras spirits were high and Williams delivered the goods throughout two full sets and nearly three hours of performing alone onstage. I got to meet him briefly after the show and he was, to say the very least, exhausted.

He dove headfirst into the first set with a few fan favorites including "Apparition," and "Kidney in a Cooler." Then, just for the  St. Louis crowd, he paid his respects to Chuck Berry with a reggae version of "Johnnie B. Goode." 

He showed his funky side with "Novelty Song" (Focus on the Bass), and "More than a Little" – the audience chanting along to the signature chorus, "Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody is watching."

What amazes me, in addition to his own stellar music, is Williams’ versatility in covering other artists’ work, yet making it all his own. Within this one show, Williams covered Phish ("Birds of a Feather"), the Grateful Dead ("Row Jimmy"), Heart ("Barracuda"), The Rolling Stones ("Gimme Shelter"), Steve Miller Band ("Joker"), Stone Temple Pilots ("Plush") and Nirvana ("Come as You Are").

Needless to say, it takes a special talent to come out of a Phish jam into "Barracuda." Keller Williams is indeed a special talent. Go check him out if you haven’t already – you won’t be sorry. | Amy Burger
 

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