Keller Williams, Rialto Theater, Tuscon, AZ, 3/6
"Bohemian Boob Jobs, Laser-Toting Martians, and Earl: A Night to Remember"
Some concert goers try to sneak their pets inside the venue. Keller Williams lets his dog run the show. On March 6, 2002 at the Rialto Theater in Tucson, Arizona, the entertainment began before Keller himself took the spotlight. Earl, Williams’ famed golden retriever, made an impromptu appearance on stage. He bided his time, supervising the stage set-up, which included the usual myriad of candles and an array of guitars arranged in an arc.
It is an unwritten rule that any show which features the performer’s dog as an opening act must kick ass. That night was no exception. Keller started the show with an understated entrance, ambling on stage while strumming the opening notes of an instrumental tune. And then, before you could say ‘kidney in a cooler,’ he had whipped up a loop-driven Dark Star jam. The rest of the first set was seamless. While the tour nominally focused on the Laugh album, Keller peppered his set with old favorites as well as some crowd-pleasing covers. Midway through the second set, Earl made an encore presentation as the subject of one of Keller’s newer tunes, ‘My Dogs.’ ‘Freeker by the Speaker’ brought the show to an energetic close. After the encore, which featured ‘Boob Job’ on bongo drums, it was clear that the audience was not ready for the show to end. The houselights remained off while we made as much noise as possible, stomping our feet, chanting ‘K-Dub,’ and clapping like maniacs. Finally Keller shyly re-appeared, shrugging his shoulders in an ‘aw shucks’ gesture. Cupping his ear to the audience, he announced that upon request, he would sing an a capella version of Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s incredible to watch Keller go to town on nine instruments at once. But it’s quite another thing to see him with just his voice. Using just the microphone and occasionally his mouth trumpet, he comically recreated the Queen ballad singlehandedly, imitating all of the voices to a tee.
This was only my third Keller show, but somehow it felt familiar. Part of this may be due to the way that his style allows for, and almost demands, a kind of intimacy with the audience. He frequently invites the audience to participate in the musical moment. The same goes for other members of the Williams musical family. Lou Gosane happily accommodated the handful of tapers who arrived armed and ready to capture the night’s performance. Representing fifty percent of the band’s line-up, there’s no doubt that this man is kept busy enough doing the job of three. Yet somewhere between manning the soundboard and providing lovely background vocals, he still found time to chat with some local fans. After the show Keller himself set up shop in the lobby, cheerfully signing CDs and posters. He even lent his signature to a woman’s pregnant belly. My connection with the performance was complete when I was able to personally thank Keller for the night of wonderful music. He responded with a genuine, albeit weary, smile. ‘Thanks,’ he replied. ‘We had a lot of fun.’
I couldn’t help but agree.