Keller Williams and the WMDs, Nokia Theatre Times Square, NYC- 2/21
Few musicians are fortunate enough to have both the savvy to arrange an ensemble of some of the better talent in the circuit and the freedom to engage in full-fledged tours with the impressive cast while maintaining a solo base on the side. For Keller Williams, balancing the continuous outpourings of his solo work with guest appearances and collaborations of all sorts has been as much a part of the fine-tuned juggling act that is his career as is his eclectic approach to music.
Keller Williams and the WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction), his first non-solo touring attempt, follows Keller’s trend of bringing together similar-minded musicians to create an act that’s natural, unique, and as with all things Keller, irrevocably fun.
The incarnation of the WMDs came during an Other Tent performance at Bonnaroo ’07 and was received with open arms from fans, leading to a fall tour throughout some notable venues along the east coast. Riding their successful synergy, the band began another run early this year that has spanned the country and will finish up at Michigan’s Rothbury Music Festival in early July.
In the underground of Manhattan’s Times Square, a region mainly reserved for intricate plumbing systems and subway trains, K-Dub and the WMDs dazzled Nokia Theatre with a solid assortment of oldies, goodies and new tunes that delivered throughout and sated audible appetites on all levels.
The lineup for the WMDs is Keith Moseley (String Cheese Incident) on bass, Gibb Droll (Marc Broussard) on electric guitar, Jeff Sipe (Aquarium Rescue Unit, Phil Lesh) on drums and Keller on acoustic 6 and 12-string, as well as electric guitar and harmonica, a mere fraction of the arsenal normally manned in the course of his solo performances.
First set opened up relatively calm, as though to acquaint newcomers to the hodgepodge entity with some classic Keller before stepping it up to reveal the true capabilities of their fusion. “The Juggler,” a playful number from his first album Freek, displays on record what a versatile voice and adroit guitar skillseven without the loops and additional effects that were to comeare together capable of. Accompanied by more strings and some percussion, the song assumed a more complete and full feel, all while retaining its natural Keller-ness. It became apparent early on that while Droll, Moseley and Sipe were on stage to play, their presence was meant to supplement the sound rather than outweigh it.
“Freeker by the Speaker” has been in Keller’s rotation consistently since its inception, and has always proved to please and move crowds with its familiar bass riff and dance-provoking lyrics. No exceptions were made at Nokia as stationary bodies began to sway to Droll’s rhythm and Moseley’s commanding use of his 4-string apparatus. “Play This,” off of Keller’s most recent not-so-solo effort Dream, took on a flow that was punk-esque, a genre seldom visited by the man, but did so as seemingly effortlessly as the rest of his repertoire.
Coming back from a brief intercession, Keller and Moseley changed the flow of things by swapping instruments and launching into String Cheese Incident’s “Sometimes a River,” with Moseley charging the vocals. “Mullet Cut” paid tribute to the trailer-park demographic, and as the song whirled along with Keller’s mop on stage, the screen in the background provided additional visual stimulus with a splendid sequence of the loveable hairstyle in all shapes and sizes.
Though exciting many with their musicianship and fluidity as a band throughout the show, it wasn’t until the first few notes emerged of what would become “Eyes of the World” that the atmosphere inside the theatre took on a noticeable upswing. Droll’s abilities on electric shone through as he explored perfectly the melodious solos made famous by Jerry. His shredding role on guitar would not wane for the remainder of the show, and his impressive dexterity throughout some late jamming in the second set complimented the other players like a fine spice.
“The Girl from Ipanema,” a bossa nova-style piece originally by the Brazilian/Portuguese team of Jobim and Moraes, came out of left field and brought the pace back down to a slow shuffle. Even with three other band mates, Keller proved his ability to dig up and dish out some of the most obscure and rarely-played covers that fit the niche.
“Breathe” reflected one of the highlights of Keller’s collaborative release with the now-defunct String Cheese Incident, an ode to an underwater realm devoid of the everyday hindrances of terrestrial life and the necessity, though a rewarding one, of inhaling a fresh breath of O2. In the same sense, the WMDs provided the refreshing air tank for the submerged world of fans that swam beneath the hectic happenings that engulfed the cityscape above.
Carrying on the notion of inner-freedom, they encored with “Best Feeling,” a suitable conclusion to a night of reminiscent, free-flowing, emotionally-gratifying music. Complete with its uplifting guitar riffs and imaginative words, the feeling evoked by hearing Keller play with the WMDs was one of optimistic expectation and firm faith in the powerful potential of musical union.