On Friday, February 22nd, The Tralf Music Hall in Buffalo played host to multi-talented singer/songwriter/guitarist Keller Williams. Keller Williams is often described as a ‘one-man jam-band’ due to his frequent use of live phrase looping while incorporating multiple instruments. His stage shows are built around Keller singing his compositions and choice covers while accompanying himself with an acoustic guitar connected to a Gibson Echoplex delay system that allows him to simulate a full band. His music combines elements of bluegrass, folk, alternative rock, reggae, electronica/dance, jazz, funk, and other assorted genres.
This show was sold-out and for those who waited until the last minute were left out in the cold. The Tralf filled to capacity early, shortly before Keller appeared on stage the crowd was shoulder-to-shoulder. Williams came strolling onto the stage gently strumming his guitar while spinning in slow circles. Keller Williams immediately drew the crowd in with the warm register of his tenor voice. His voice combined with his skilled guitar talents were enough to entrance and enthrall everyone in the building immediately. He seamlessly eased from mellow to upbeat and the crowd was right there with him every step of the way. Somehow he encapsulated the best elements of every type of music he’s known to blend in a perfectly clean and emboldened fashion.
Keller makes the stage his own musical playground, dancing barefoot as he moves from one instrument to another. The diverse crowd present was willing to let Keller take them on any ride of his choosing. The performance was constantly shifting, with almost imperceptible changes from one song to the next. Keller’s improvisational adventure drew in the audience for nearly two and a half hours of music. Williams switches easily between instruments, electronic devices and microphone. It’s almost like watching a well-practiced dance production – seamlessly and comfortably moving between components to create a dynamic and propelling show.
Though Williams’ keeps things interesting (his songs are full of hilarious puns and commentary) his show relies almost entirely on pure skill. It was nearly impossible to stop watching this vastly talented musician perform, for Keller Williams it is all about the music. When performing, he pays close attention to the details which adds to the impressive nature of his music. With each new or unique instrument, loop or vocal, Williams adds dimension and largess to his sound. If you didn’t know any better walking into a Keller Williams show, it would sound as if there’s an entire band on the stage. He has developed his own distinctive compositional and performing style. His approach of wanting to go down different avenues musically with just a guitar and a microphone is innovative is impressive – and the crowd loves it, too.
Throughout the evening he set up a vibe that kept people on their feet, crowding the stage, bobbing heads and dancing. After roughly an hour of music, Keller took a short set break and we all knew that the second set would be a real treat. His ability to incorporate all of the lessons that he has learned from a long list of artists who have found their way into his world, filtering their music through his own experiences until something wholly unique emerges. The first set featured such fan favorites as “Let’s Jam”, “Juicy Fruit” and “Uncle Disney”.
Keller quickly dove into the second set with a standout cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street”. Keller’s knack for nailing Dead covers is no new concept. Of course he did a great covers of “Sugaree” and “Til’ the Morning Comes”, in the first set but he rose to the high expectations of the crowd with far more than a typical Dead cover of “Shakedown Street”. Certainly the highlight of the show Keller took the song in several directions with the most impressive display of his “looping” capabilities. While remaining a serious musician Keller has a sense of humor and sarcasm. For example, in his song “Gate Crashers Suck”, he displays his anger towards Deadheads who stormed the gates at the Grateful Dead’s yearly Deer Creek performance in 1995, causing the second night to be cancelled. Regardless of political views, it was clear that Keller was more joking around than trying to make serious political statements with his music.
Returning for one last humorous song, Keller finished his brilliant performance with Ani Difranco’s “Boob Job”. This was one of those shows at the Tralf where everyone walking out of the venue knew they had seen something spectacular that evening. The set list balanced acoustic, jam and bass – progressing perfectly from chill to lively. Keller Williams is one of those unforgettable musicians who you know when you see him on stage that he loves what he does, he loves the music and he loves feeling the vibe of others feeling his vibe, which is love for music. To best sum up what Keller Williams has always been about is being something different. He is still continuing to explore and expand and is considered one of the most tireless musical seekers around. Just don’t even think of calling him predictable.
Set 1: Jam-> Turtle in the Front Row, Breathe, Sugaree, Let’s Jam, Wicked, Juicy Fruit Theme Song-> Passapanzy, More a Little, Hear & See, Uncle Disney, Doobie in My Pocket, Between Your Heart and Your Head, Til’ The Morning Comes
Set 2: Bob Rules, Gate Crashers Suck, Shakedown Street, Floatin on the Freshies, Love Handles, Mary Jane, Super Hot Girl
Encore: Boob Job