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Beaver Creek: Keller is finger pickin’ good

Stephen Bedford
newsroom@vaildaily.com
Beaver Creek CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily
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BEAVER CREEK, Colorado ” Just a few scant minutes in Keller Williams’ Thursday set at the Vilar Center, Minturn resident Chris Ralston turned to his companion and asked “How the hell does he do that?”

He wasn’t the only one wondering how the musician comes up with his material and how he executes it.

After two rollicking, imaginative sets, the dexterous one-man band’s first appearance at the Vilar left many hoping it wouldn’t be his last.

Ambling on stage from the shadows barefoot, grinning and strumming, Williams looked unassuming, just like a regular guy off any street in Anytown, USA. Then he started playing.

Williams unleashed a guitar sound that alternated between fine and frantic, carefully plucking notes before crashing into chords to unleash six-string sound that somehow, someway managed to be both lead and rhythm, although the laws of music and common sense dictate that that is impossible. But it’s true.

First and foremost, Williams is a musician of supernatural ability, but he’s also an entertainer, and few can combine goofball antics with such a glorious guitar and stage show. One particular stretch of Thursday’s show had Williams miming a jazz quartet while using his secret weapon: the mouth trumpet, or is it a trombone, flugelhorn? Whatever it is, it’s free-wheeling, brassy fun.

Williams opened his show with his usual unpredictable medley, which featured Heart’s “Barracuda;” fuzzy, futuristic Peter Frampton effects; a loose cover of Dave Brubeck’s jazz standard “Take 5;” beatnik scatting; and boisterous beat boxing, all across a 20-minute span.

As one song unfurled, Williams quickly designed the neck by looping progressions from different instruments and then layering them upon each other to craft whatever he felt like. Although it’s likely each show is carefully calculated, they all take on an improvisational, seat-of-the-pants feel.

Among the toys in Williams’ arsenal are an electric bass that warbles and burbs along with the snare and hi-hat drum machine effects, all of which underscores another guitar rigged to mimic instruments including the xylophone, flute and harmonica. Voila! One man band.

“I think I have a pretty good musical understanding, but the way he loops and layers is pretty damn cool,” Ralston said following Williams’ first set. “You watch him start acoustically then start integrating all these other instruments and then he’s his own band.”

Williams has put some new tricks up his sleeve, most noticeably an Etch-a-Sketch looking device that produced some Twilight Zone, robot-rock techno. Meanwhile, Williams danced merrily along to his own original creation.

Mingling with the covers and jam outs were Williams’ own breezy tunes ” songs about holy figures in Cadillacs, warnings to birds about flying into windows, and “Freeker by the Speaker,” his concert centerpiece and a celebration to the noodle-limbed dancers (of which there were many on Thursday) who populate his shows

In unusual departure, Williams left his trusty guitar and toys behind for “Freeker,” instead playing it on a grand piano. A roar from the crowd followed, and was maintained through an interpolation of Nirvana’s “All Apologies.”

Williams’ second set was more guitar oriented as he ran between covers of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider,” his ode to the slightly obese “Love Handles” and a reggae version of Phish’s funky “Birds of a Feather.”

Although he’s a sight to behold and a sound to remember, Williams also represented the fully evolved culture of the Vilar Center. Few concert halls can host Williams one night then welcome symphonic jazz, chamber music and Broadway in the ensuing week.

For Thursday night, the venue was more Club Vilar than Center for the Performing Arts, which is certainly a testament to the concerted, coordinated efforts of the Vilar staff and several benefactors to bring musical diversity to the valley. The intimate venue had the feel of the clubs and festival pastures where you can typically find Williams, just with better sightlines and a far superior sound system.

“We love having all this energy here,” said executive director of the Vilar Performing Arts Center Kris Sabel, who has pursued Williams for the last few years. “Since 8150 closed down, he [Williams] hasn’t had a place to play. He’s got a huge fan base here and he should be performing out here regularly.”

Suffice to say, Freekers up and down the valley are cutting a jib in hopes of Williams, and others of his ilk, swift return.

Music lover Stephen Bedford lives in Edwards. E-mail comments about this review to cschnell@vaildaily.com


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