Keller Williams, The Murat Egyptian Room, Indianapolis. IN- 4/14
The weather outside of Indianapolis’ Murat Center was wet and dreary, with rain having come and more on the way. Yet, as show time approached the crowd that was lined up down the block was relaxed, happy, and smiling. The weather was gloomy and it wasn’t entirely clear if they were going to reach the Murat’s towering spires by the time Keller Williams took the stage or not, but nobody was anxious, nobody was angry. Everybody was simply laid back and having fun with their friends; such would be the mood of the entire evening.
The Murat’s Egyptian Room, atop two flights of marble stairs, is an over-sized banquet hall. The stage is flanked by large pillars, the carpet the high walls are decorated with Egyptian art, and tables and chairs are dispersed around the back of the room. Right around 8 o’clock, Keller came to the space at the center of the stage surrounded by his soundboard, a mounted but unmanned bass and electric guitar, keyboards, and his arsenal of acoustic guitars. The crowd greeted him by raising their excitement to a new level, and he gave that emotion right back to them. An early and jubilant “Kidney in a Cooler” set the mood for the evening upbeat, spirited, and above all, fun. However talented of a musician that Keller may be (and most certainly is), his power over an audience comes as a showman. Yes, Vaudeville is alive and well, my friends, personified in Keller Williams. To go along with his signature looping, the first set included Keller playing slide guitar while sitting on an exercise ball, soloing with a magnet, slapping his twelve-string guitar like a bass, and even a Theremin solo. A particular high point was when Keller took to the keyboards under a spotlight and played not “Georgia on My Mind” or “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” but a heartfelt medley of Tenacious D standards: “This is our song of exultant joy ’cause we only came to kick some ass.” Just before set break he sang, “let’s take a break together.” The show definitely was something experienced between Keller and the audience together. Even not knowing what the lyrics meant, during “No Hablo Espanol,” didn’t stop the crowd from passionately singing along. The modern Vaudevillian did everything short of a tumbling act to entertain the Indianapolis crowd, and the audience’s jubilation carried on through the set break.
Williams wasted no time beginning the second set, playing his guitar as he emerged from back stage. Most of the theatrics were left back in the first set and, after some early looping, the rest of the night was spent with Keller and his twelve-string. Songs like “Ninja” and “Alligator Alley” served to remind everybody in the theater that the night was about fun. The video screen behind Keller varied throughout the night between real-time projections of the show, and video to complement particular songs. “Lightning” was accompanied by storm footage, and “Ninja” by a ninja going through his motions. During “Alligator Alley” the crowd cheered as they watched a crafty turtle evade being devoured by a hungry alligator. The night was brought to its highest pitch during a fervent “St. Stephen,” where Williams kept The Grateful Dead in view yet proudly made his own. There was no looping or effects but Keller owned the song with his passionate performance. Like most of the second set, “St. Stephen” proved that he certainly didn’t need anything more than his acoustic guitar to entertain. The stripped down set culminated with the medley of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers classics (does it get any more pure, stripped-down rock and roll than Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers?) that appears on his current release with the Keels, Grass: “Last Dance with Mary Jane” segued into “Breakdown” and then back into “Last Dance.” The encore was a quick and palette-cleansing “Illegal Smile,” accompanied only by a bongo. Williams bowed, and the audience showed their appreciation with perfectly legal smiles, as this modern-day Vaudeville bill came to a close.