Keller Williams, Lupos, Providence, RI- 2/26
Fresh on the heels of what was pathetically the most significant snowstorm of the winter, Keller Williams — guitar player, beat boxer and one man band extraordinaire — brought his own storm to Lupo’s at The Strand.
Taking the stage a little bit after 7:30 p.m., Williams played what was, admittedly, a chilled-out Sunday night show. The some 1,000 people in attendance were treated to mellow grooves, quirky originals from his new album, Dream, choice cuts from his older albums and some superbly placed and played covers.
But, as Keller rapped during a loop in the middle of his first set, the performance was not a raging "Friday night show" or an all-out, late night Saturday night throw down. It was, he said, a "laid back Sunday night show."
As time goes on, Keller seems to rely more and more heavily on looping, and the first set was no exception. And while a lot of the loops in the first set didn’t turn into a song — or much of anything — the layering technique did allow Keller to nail a danceable version of the Prince song, “Love Bizarre.” This, along with the bluegrassy version of the Martin Sexton song, "Hallelujah," and a keyboard powered take on Terrapin Station, proved to be the highlights of the first set.
“Hallelujah” is one of my favorite covers Keller does and sounds so much like one of his own songs that I heard a number of people ask whether it was an original. Sexton’s influence on Keller is very obvious, with quirky lines like "Jesus lives and Elvis saves." Keller's merch guy actually told me that Keller gets embarrassed when people confuse the number for one of his own, as he perceives this as a slight against Sexton.
“Terrapin Station” was played beautifully, with Keller casting aside looping for a song or two to punch out a stripped-down version of the Dead favorite. It segued smoothly into an instrumental take on "Burning Down the House" (by former Providence residents the Talking Heads) which ended the set in fine form.
While the show was saturated with covers — as is the case with many Williams’ shows — it didn’t fail to highlight some of his own witty songwriting. The show featured two of the stronger — and funnier — numbers from Dream. "Ninja", a laid back, funky, number where Keller repeatedly refers to himself as a "ninja of love" didn’t disappoint, but also didn’t expand much on the album version. Another choice cut off the new album, "Sing for My Dinner," seems to have become a favorite over the last few years. But the real crowd pleaser came when Williams reached far back into his repertoire to strum the old, rarely played original “Portapotty,” where K-Dub sings about falling in love with a girl he sees in line for a Port-a-John at a concert. He even found time in the two and a half hour show to drop some of his most popular numbers, including "Kidney in a Cooler," "Freeker By the Speaker" and "Alligator Alley." While I have grown somewhat tired of hearing “Kidney” and “Freeker,” “Alligator Alley” never gets old.
Overall, I can honestly say that Williams is the one musician I have seen over the years that really seems to mature and get better as time goes. He picks up more tricks, continues to write interesting new material and always finds a fresh take on others’ songs. It is almost impossible to not have a good time when the performer is clearly enjoying himself so much. Keller radiates joy when he plays and the audience picks up on that. Even when it is just a "laid back Sunday night show," the audience is always receptive, early anticipating where this one-man band will take them next.