He’s conquered small theatres and huge mega-festivals, but Keller Williams will always struggle with second-class status on the Internets.
No matter how high the jaw-dropping solo act’s rising star eventually ascends, Keller will never be able to secure ownership of the dot-com domain featuring his name, barring the unforeseen bankruptcy of a well-established real estate company. He’ll always have to settle for the oft-maligned dot-netherworld.
In some ways it’s fitting Keller shares his name with the billion-dollar property realtor. After all, an easy case could be made that the musician shares a lot in common with the red-hot housing market these days. His popularity “on the scene” has boomed and public consciousness of his prowess is at an all-time record high, his audiences are expanding at astounding levels and prices for his tickets might now possibly be described as inflated, especially along both coasts.
Like $688,000 for a one-bedroom apartment, we’re left pondering this thought after tickets to his New York City stop went for $22: Is the Keller Bubble in danger of bursting?
The short answer is “No.” The long answer is “I, er, I mean, maybe, listen brah, it’ s like, I don’t really think so, but hey, you never know…I f*ckin’ like him.”
To make up my own mind, I checked out his latest tour at the brand new Nokia Theatre in Times Square on Friday, my third time seeing Keller in 2005. And, as usual, I liked it. Immensely.
Keller’s act might be considered a bit of a novelty by some: one man diggin’ on 10, maybe 15, different instruments over the course of the night, sometimes five or six in one jam. I wouldn’t necessarily argue against that point, and I’m not sure Keller would either. But that thought is always truncated. While the novelty assertion may be somewhat accurate, what’s missing is the fact that he’s also a magnetic personality with a poetic vision, a musician that’s far above average at everything he’s doing on stage. He may be a one-man band, but that band’s laying down some primo shit — the goods.
(I hope you’ve noticed I fulfilled my “one-man band” description quota in the last sentence of the previous paragraph. In fact, if you search for “Keller Williams” “one-man band” on Google, more than 500 true searches will populate the results, including a free term paper entitled “Keller Williams One Man Band.” And if you’re planning on using that term paper gratis, I hope you’ll at least fill in the missing punctuation before submitting it.)
The description rings true, though, no matter how overused. Keller blends his aggressive acoustic guitar licks with Wooten-esque bass thumps and a stripped-down drum pad to create a band full of song, laying down keyboard leads or trumpet fills with his mouth, scatting and beat-boxing in perfect rhythm and fooling around impressively with a bevy of percussion instruments. Incredibly, it all works so well.
I don’t want to fall back on the “If you close your eyes…” cliche, but it’s true. For much of his two-set show, you’d honestly believe there was a full band on stage. Keller is an absolute master of the looping machine (and he remains the only man I’ve ever seen use more loops more effectively than Trey circa ’99), a wizard of the foot-controlled apparatus that allows him to record several riffs and beats and play them back on top of each other.
The looping highlight of this show was the second-to-last number of the second set, when Keller covered Michael Franti and Spearhead’s Stay Human (All the Freaky People). In addition to the bass and guitar and drum loops, Keller broke out the percussion instruments and created a SIMON-like repetitive line of noises mixed into the jam. With the crowd chanting “All the freaky people make the beauty of the world” and Keller digging through his toy chest for more things to bang and shake, this jam may have been worth the price of admission right there.
But there was so much more to enjoy. Mixing creative originals and well-spun covers, Keller played more than 30 songs during the three-hour performance, with the audience hanging on every note. Original tunes like Ninja of Love, Hunting Charlie, Celebrate Your Youth and Roshambo kept the crowd dancing, and fantastic covers like Drive My Car, Run Like an Antelope > Runaway Jim > Run Like an Antelope, St. Stephen, Wind Cries Mary, The Joker and Rastaman Chant got the crowd rocking.
Keller came out for a two-song encore and delivered the Tenacious D-like Gate Crashers Suck and my personal favorite, Best Feeling. It’s hard to watch a guy sing “F*ck youuuuuu” — the chorus to Gate Crashers — so beautifully and not laugh, just a great way to end the show. I went home happy, I left inspired and I admired the work of a true artist that evening.
Happy concertgoers — and glowing reviewers — obviously don’t see the Keller Bubble bursting anytime soon. That’s not to say there isn’t an objective counter-argument: Nearly half the songs Keller played on Friday were covers, and regardless of the quality, cover bands are something you pay $4 for in a coffeehouse (and there, you can play Checkers or Connect Four right there on the table, without being bumped by drunken teens or odiferous wookies). Keller happens to be a lot better than those amateurs, but at $22, I can see casual, money-conscious fans taking a pass.
And that’s where I find the comparison to the housing market spot-on: At Keller’s newly lofty price level, it’s easy to believe more consumers might bow out of such a purchase and wait for something more sensible to come along.
Personally, I won’t miss a Keller show next time he comes to town. But I don’t mind the cost of my one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, either.
Why KW doesnt cover the Stop Making Sense version of Psycho Killer is just insanity to me — with the loops and the acoustic gear, he’d do it perfectly … If you have a chance to check out the Nokia Theatre in Times Square, do it. It’s a brand new, ultra-modern, 2,100-capacity venue that makes you think you’re in the blinking neon lights of Japan. Here’s who they have coming in the next few weeks (Claypool on Friday) … Nokia’s hosting three nights of Slipknot!, huh? I don’t know who these guys think they are, but good for them. When I told my buddy Lukas that on the way to the venue, he remarked, “Three nights of Slipknot!? Do goth kids even have three days worth of goth clothes?” I laughed excessively … Keller was thoroughly outplayed by a homeless Bill Withers on the subway platform after the show. If anyone took the A/C line down from 42nd Street on the way home, you know how good this guy was, segueing in and out of at least 10 classic soul tunes and Motown gems, lighting the place aglow with multi-racial smiles. Kudos to that wonderful dude, who made my post-concert night.
10/14/05 Nokia Theatre New York, NY
I: Inhale to the Chief> Hypnotize> Jack A Roe*> Hypnotize> Inhale to the Chief, Sally Sullivan> Bad**> Sally Sullivan> Roshambo, Gold Plated^ Mother Hips, Apparition, Loop w/ upright bass and theramin etc> Drive My Car&, Teen Angst%, Swing$, New Years Day**> Celebrate Your Youth> Run Like An [email protected]> Runaway [email protected]> Run Like An [email protected]
II: Gimme Shelter#, India> Hunting Charlie> India, Stayin Alive!, The Joker^^> Loop, SloMo Balloon&&, Wind Cries Mary##, Loop> Multisyllabic, Skitso> St. Stephen*> Yoni, Ninja, Stay Human***, Rastaman Chant$$
E: Gate Crashers Suck, Best Feeling
* Grateful Dead
^ Mother Hips
& The Beatles
$ Ani DiFranco
# The Rolling Stones
! The BeeGee’s
^^ Steve Miller Band
&& w/ Lou on Trumpet
## Jimi Hendrix
*** Michael Franti and Spearhead
$$ Bob Marley