Looking around Toad’s Place at midnight this past Monday, I was reminded of the way concerts are supposed to be. As Keller Williams soared through guitar solos that could only have been transmitted to him by the gods, no one in the room could avoid moving his body. Everyone was in a trance.
And this is how it was for most of the the two and a half hours that Williams played.
It all started a little after 9:30 p.m. Beginning the song offstage, a barefoot man walked out, playing, smiling, prancing before the crowd. His 10-string guitar sounded like a bass, a bass drum, and a guitar all in one. But nevertheless, there were still a bass and and electric guitar mounted on stands at his sides, and drums set up in the back.
For those who had never seen Williams before, however, it quickly became evident no one would be joining him onstage. After pounding away at his acoustic guitar, he stepped on a little pedal, and began noodling with a sound board nearby. When he let go of his guitar, what he had just played repeated in loops. Free of having to play his own accompaniment, he walked up to the bass and layed down a killer riff over the acoustic guitar, proceeding to loop it. At the microphone he recorded stellar mouth drums, followed by a sitar-simulation on an electric guitar. And finally, Williams returned to his acoustic guitar solos.
Now this all sounds amazing, but two and a half hours of it might get a little boring. Not so for Williams.
Williams kept his show fresh by playing two sets of a little over an hour. He also constantly changed the order in which he looped things. As he looped, Williams incorporated new sounds and instruments, such as a bizarre instrument with two metal rods sticking from it, called a theramin. When turned on, the instrument makes a high whirring sound, which is modulated by the distance between the rods and the player’s hands. Williams also used his feet and head, a big crowd pleaser apparently.
And of course there were also the actual songs that Williams chose to play. Aside from his own repertoire of funny lyrics — in songs like “Kidney in a Cooler,” “Inhale to the Chief,” “Boob Job,” and a song about shooting people on the highway — Keller added color to the show by inserting teases and riffs from different songs into his own. During one such song, he added the bassline to “Superstitious,” and whistled the tune. At one point, he broke into “Hot in Here” over a mouth drum beat. Two full covers of note were “Shiver” by Coldplay, and “Heartbreak Hotel,” sung remarkably like Elvis. I’m not a huge Coldplay fan, and that is a polite understatement, yet Keller stripped the song of all its pretension and self importance, turning it into a lovely ballad.
Seeping into the whole show, especially the first set, seemed to be Williams’s newfound obsession with techno music. He added effects to make his standards sound computerized. To top it off he danced like a robot, repeating things like, “Come on DJ,” through robot effects on his mic. This probably has something to do with his upcoming winter release, Dance, a remix of his last album. In his own words, the new effort is an attempt to get at his “inner DJ.” It’s hard to tell whether or not Williams is kidding around with this material, or if he takes it seriously. In any case it still makes for great entertainment.
But the kicker was the encore. After walking out and taking requests for the song “Boob Job,” he noticed that a few people were shaking their hands saying no, but couldn’t hear me — I mean, umm, them — screaming “Scarlet Begonias.” But while he was setting up for “Boob Job” the pleas for the Grateful Dead song continued, and he picked up his guitar — upon finishing the ode to plastic surgery, he launched into what we had all been waiting for, even extending into “Fire on the Mountain,” the way the Dead did in their shows.
And after two and a half hours of standing and dancing, everyone picked up their feet once more and danced the night away.