Keller Williams, Bowery Ballroom, NYC- 4/19
On a rainy evening, Williams rolled into NYC to find the Bowery Ballroom crowd sliding into a festive “holiday” weekend mood. With all New York shows, there’s never a lack of energy from the audience but Keller’s style of play calls for a quiet crowd similar to an acoustic Dave Matthews or Ani DiFranco. Quiet is a description that New Yorker’s will proudly never be; but although chatty, this was either a very educated Keller crowd or one that simply wanted dance the night away, and the venue is a nice little haunt that has great sound quality, plenty of space upstairs and downstairs while still retaining its intimacy.
An accomplished guitarist, Keller’s percussive style creates a large sound for a solo performer. He strums his guitar in a short, staccato sound that makes up for his lack of drums. His compare/contrast style allows him to captivate the audience with powerful lyrics coupled by solid guitar riffs. He goes back to rhythm while he’s singing so he has the foundation without having a bass player and a drummer. Yet he can also jam for minutes at a time, looping his instruments on stage to sometimes sound like a four, five and sometimes six piece band.
Williams is great up on the stage with just a guitar, but he’s got plenty of instruments in his arsenal. Along with his six-string and twelve-string, there’s a bass, an electric, and four other guitars in the background. He plays the mouth flugel, whistles, claps, bangs on symbols and maracas and has a talking drum too. It’s obvious he’s familiar with the trumpet because if your head was turned you would think the man had broken out one.
Humor and beauty intertwine during Williams’ show in one song he’ll make facial expressions or entice the crowd to sing along while the next song will display thoughtful, often fanciful lyrics. The first set focussed on Keller’s compositions although it peppered it with choice covers. Among the best-received originals were “One Hit Wonder,” “Dude Loup” and “Goofballs.” The range of covers included “Midnight Rider,” “Big Country,” and “Under Pressure.” The highlight may have been a segued passage from “Get Up” into “Money” into “Whole Lotta Love” and back into “Get Up.”
The second set was even stronger. During a great “Freeker by the Speaker”>”Word Up”>”Freeker” Keller gave the audience chance to jam, while “Sheba and Earl” (named for Keller’s dogs’ who share the stage during the song) gave the audience a chance to laugh. Then came the reggae-esque “Best Feeling,” which epitomizes Keller Williams’ music humor, beautiful jamming, and stirring lyrics all wrapped into one. Keller’s fan anthem, “Kidney in a Cooler,” ended the second set.
A live Keller Williams show will always be different than his albums he’s a vibrant live musician. One this night he balanced entertaining lyrics and entrancing melodies, fusing them together to create an engaging live performance.