Keller Williams, Holiday Inn Select, Presidential Ballroom, Fredericksburg, VA 12/26
It's dubbed Keller University for good reason: One day after Mr. Clause swoops through, Keller Williams plays in Fredericksburg, VA, his home town. He doesn't even remember how long he has performed at home on the 26th, but for three years running he has treated animals at Frederiscksburg's SPCA, making his show a benefit concert. This year's 789 tickets sold out for the event held at the local Holiday Inn's Presidential Ballroom (2nd year there). Area fans, seen earlier beasting cases and cases of beer up to their hotel rooms, crutched themselves towards the stage to absorb a swathing from deep in Williams' growing canon. These well-sloshed fans, appropriately near plentiful crashing spots, helped raise $6,700 (paying a stiffer ticket price than Williams usually asks) to fund a larger SPCA facility.
While sitting on the waist-high risers-made-stage conversing about seeing Williams umpteen times with "only 20 people" in the crowd and about how he's blown up recently, I started squirming in homespun anticipation. Checking out the scene on stage, I also noticed the absence of a keyboard, but Keller Williams only needs strings anyhow, I guess he really only needs his mouth; what I'm trying to say is that no keyboard made no big deal at all. Only seven minutes late (actually early by concert time), 8:07 brought satiation. A side door opened and he came through strumming at one of his acoustic guitars, wading the happiest cheer any artist ever knows, one from home.
Rocking an I'm-back-again grin, he dumped "Porta Potty Line" and "Fly Like an Eagle" (Steve Miller Band), one of three covers for the night although more are usually expected. Then, he sang a few bars of thanks to any SPCA donators. Always a sing-a-long, "Freaker" foreshadowed that Williams would face a chorus all night, but he's home, so screw it > "Word" > "Freaker." Beautiful "Breathe" was thick (every percussion device available was hit, for some a simple rap sufficed and from others more complicated patterns emerged), seconded by one of the better set-closers I've heard him do ("Stupid Questions," "The Day That Never Was" > "Apparition," "Best Feeling"). Someone yelled, "Keller in Fredicksburg, It's a Christmas miracle!" Due to lacking local stages (grouped risers don't count) big enough to support his current demand, I guess it is a miracle, certainly a feat.
Set two: "Moving Sidewalk's" babbling-brook acoustics and drum-kit mouth percussion are uniquely Williams. Next: "Alligator," "Love Handles," "Dogs'" lazy reggae bass (Everyone wondered when it would bite) > "Boob Job," and its message that some things do last forever, Williams on banjo; he's tightened his picking technique, possibly from touring with Bela Fleck and YMSB this past year. "Novelty Song" flirted with Sonic Youth/Hendrix riffs, meaning there was plenty to distract from the frothy acoustic basslines we're supposed to "focus on." Few by Williams' standards, there were two well-woven Grateful Dead covers ("Scarlet Begonias" > "Fire on the Mountain"). Years touring as a Dead fan allow thoughtful song pairings and heartfelt interpretations from their catalogue. "Organic" niced it up > "Vacate" came on time, it was almost time to leave the premises, and "Drums" spotlighted Williams on djembe, talking drum and his percussion-synth xylophone (who needs band mates?): perfect dancing music and another lofty set closer.
For his encore, he and his soundman Lou Gosain (on harmonica) discharged a Christmas traditional ("Gloria In Excelcius Deo") before the jazzy "Fuel for the Road." Glancing back at the stage on his way out hinted that after stocking up on good home cookin', he may have preferred to stay longer.