Keller Williams is the unsung troubadour of jam. He continues day in and day out cultivating and fostering the spirit that made jam fun in the first place. I remember being a hot, young wookie on the scene and being mesmerized by the undeniable talents of the one-man band that looped the tones of hollow tubes bouncing on his legs. Throughout the years he has collaborated with numerous musicians at times creating legitimate projects that lasted through several full tours. Highlights include the Keller Williams Incident, WMD’S, Keller & The Keels, and his shows with More Than A Little. He is a musical stream of consciousness who maintains the same bard-like approach to song craft that he had when I first saw him around Iowa City and at Summer Camp Music Festival in the early 0’s. He never strays too far from his roots as an acoustic singer-songwriter despite his at times outlandish lyrical subject matter.
The night began with the freakishly good folk-acoustic jamgrass outfit Cabinet touring with Keller all the way from Pennsylvania. They opened with a rowdy “Susquehanna Breakdown.”
They proceeded with the traditional popularized by Earl Scruggs “Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow.” Bob Dylan’s “Diamond Joe” was an early highlight with this version featuring Todd Kopec’s amazing skills on the fiddle. The band slammed through a four-song suite with “Heavy Rain” taking on a driving but bubbly tone before the intricately picked “Mysterio.” The bubblegum-y “Smile” was a perfect dance party before the perfectly placed original “The Dove.” “Wine & Shine” was a wakeup call in the form of a driving train song jam. By this point the room had filled in pretty nicely, but tickets were still available at the box office. “Poor Man’s Blues” continued the tradition feel before Cabinet closed with their high-octane love song “Cut Down Tree.” I have been hearing about Cabinet for quite some time, but this band shattered all expectations. They are a punchy outfit with top-notch musicianship, smart songwriting, and impeccable timing. Their music was the perfect beginning to the evening. This band is a headliner waiting to happen.
After a standard set break the lights dimmed and the gentle plucking of Keller Williams’ guitar could be heard slowly filtering out of the PA system. He appeared out of the darkness with his newly formed trio consisting of Rob Wasserman on bass and Rodney Holmes on drums. This powerful rhythm section gave Keller’s music a new and striking depth. The slow build of his guitar culminated as the other two joined him on a tight “Kiwi and Apricot.” No longer was Keller pantomiming a bass solo with his vocals, he had the master laying it down as he focused on shredding his guitar.
“She Rolls” off the new album Vape is K-Dub’s ode to a devil-may-care spunion who woke up to a cop in his yard. This set was a nice mix of the new and the old with “Above The Thunder” an early indulgence for fans. Another new song “Jesus Gun” refers heavily to an “over the shoulder rocket launcher” for mostly comical purposes. Much of the night was filled with new songs, but we also experienced the re-imagination of now classic Keller tunes. The travel romp “Moving Sidewalk” took on a funky tone before segueing into another fresh track “Mantra.” The pair of aviary-themed covers The Grateful Dead’s “Bird Song” and Phish’s “Birds Of A Feather” got everyone’s attention. As a founding member of RatDog Wasserman is no stranger to playing Dead tunes, which is probably, why he blends so well musically with Mr. Williams. They both seem to be on the same page. After a tight “Best Feeling” Rob got his chance to slap the strings on ridiculous solo. Keller seemed to be utilizing his band mates nicely with lots of subtlety and precision within this power trio. Rodney Holmes was hypnotic on the snare; the man leaves music fans in a trance. Keller has the ability to turn any subject into a poppy dance song and he did it again with the reggae-esque homage to a Ugandan in America trying to meet a woman and “Making It Rain.” “Apparition” took on dark tone before exploding into a palpable ball of energy; Holmes carried that energy through a gargantuan drum solo that left the room shaking. The Instrumental was the equivalent to a guitar solo from Mr. Keller Williams. His band mates eventually rejoined him to cover The Weekend’s smash hit “Can’t Feel My Face,” which became a sing-along for the mostly college-aged crowd. Much to the delight of everyone in the room the Trio segued beautifully into “Ninja Of Love.” They went into one more off of Vape; “The Drop” before closing with an ethereal jam the taper has appropriately labeled “Ah Ah Ah.”
Keller, Rob, and Rodney returned for a funky, extended rendition of Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good To Me So Far.” They ended the show with some exploratory jamming on “The Buene.” This is yet another example of how Keller Williams shines as a bandleader when he doesn’t have to play every instrument all the time. Don’t get me wrong he’s good at it, but it must be a relief to collaborate from time to time. The Keller Williams Trio is a stripped down tight group full of potential. Time will tell if they continue beyond this tour, but this project is another solid addition to Keller’s canon of work.