Musical refractions from a living musicbox
Keller Williams can do.Williams drives vehicular venues where the top speed is measured in the HBPMs (heartbeats per minute) of the gyrating masses in freeker pits, balconies and festival fields at his shows. His most recent release, “Stage,” is divided into two compact discs, “Stage Left” and “Stage Right.” The theme of “Stage Left,” aside from “Dance of the Freek,” lies in the eager ears of a seated audience, while “Stage Right” bottles some of the lovely lightning that strikes a group posing among the dancing community at Williams’ concerts.Williams, who began his career on the restaurant circuit of his hometown of Fredericksburg, Va., has developed into one of the most diverse and energetic one-man bands in the country. All of the sounds, riffs, melodies and bliss at a Keller Williams show are not pre-recorded; they are created live and looped on stage with a method called live phrase sampling. He uses an Allen and Heath 16-channel mixer and a Gibson Echoplex Digital Pro looper to record and loop his live music, which stems from a slew of guitars, a Fender jazz bass, a Charlie Hunter-esque 10-string, a number of tubes of different tones, a self-taught “mouth flugel,” djembe drums, his voice and a few other quirks and tools.”It’s ‘Stage Left,’ which is West Coast and ‘Stage Right,’ which is, of course, the East (Coast). ‘Stage Left’ is 99 percent at San Luis Obispo at Cal Poly at a small – I think 500-capacity – theater on campus there. And there’s another song from San Diego on that record,” Williams said in a recent interview with the Vail Daily. “And then on the other side, ‘Stage Right,’ there’s about five different venues like New York City, Philadelphia, D.C., Boston, Troy, New York, and Hartford, Connecticut, … I guess that’s six … I don’t know … a handful.”
Dr. Williams conducts the celebratory gatherings throughout the album with joyful flair, showcasing his Ph.D. in spontaneity with teases, like that of the Fat Albert theme song, multi-instrumental versions of Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” Van Morrison’s “Moondance” and a uniquely-worded version of Sugar Hill Gang’s hip-hop classic “Rapper’s Delight.””Stage Left” begins with an upbeat, guitar-and-bass thrill ride in “Tubeular,” which features guitar work as creative, intricate and unique as that of the late guitar hero Michael Hedges. The early climax comes with a cover of David Bowie’s “Under Pressure.” As “Stage Left” progresses, Williams keeps the flow of instrumental tune and lyrical tune fairly consistent. The first disc closes with “Novelty Song,” which is like a light-hearted trip through Williams’ inner monologue. It travels from his reactions to crowd requests, to a cute plug for his merchandise and he even addresses the audience’s inner monologue. All the while, he encourages the crowd to “Focus on the bass.”Don’t you hate it the way I get up inside your head
And sing about all the things that you’re thinkingI can do this because I focus on the bass”Stage Right” quickly draws on three unique covers in the first five tracks, including Jerry Garcia’s “Bird Song” and Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth.” The pace slows down with “Prelude to a Cracker” and “Cracker Ass Cracker,” which is a blues tune about not having the blues.Things pick up with “Zilla a Trois,” then Williams throws in a hilarious tune, “Gate Crashers Suck,” lamenting the time a Grateful Dead show that he had tickets for was canceled.
“Balcony Baby” transitions nicely into Williams’ current favorite climax, a truly sweet and upbeat original called “Celebrate Your Youth.”Williams encores with “My Brothers and Sisters,” and jams into David Wilcox’s beat-poetic “Boob Job” to close the album.”I don’t have a certain message, which all kind of boils down to being the music lover first and just kind of doing what I love to do and not really thinking about it. Every now and then there will be some words that I write that you could look at a different way and kind of put a whole different spin on it,” Williams said. “So it means different things to different people, which I think is really cool and is the beauty of singer/songwriters.””Stage” captures Williams’ live magic in a lively and eclectic manner. It’s a fun album. It’s a one-man masterpiece.Andrew Harley can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.