Keller Williams Fitzgerald's March 4, 2014
Sometimes you just have to grow up. Even if you're used to doing the same old thing -- comfortable with what you're good at -- you have to sometime put on your big-boy pants and step up your game. In all aspects of life, if you don't change you won't get better, and Keller Williams has figured that out.
He's been going strong as a solo act on the jam circuit for more than 20 years, but it wasn't until this newest album, More Than a Little, that he's truly been able to bring his musical vision to life. He's a tinkerer, conductor, guitar virtuoso, a beat-boxer, jokester, an improvisational genius and apparently -- what was discovered Tuesday -- the optimal leader of a funk band.
This night started no different than previous nights, with Williams taking the stage by strumming his way from behind the curtain. His playing style is similar to famed guitar heroes such as Leo Kottke, which he never fails to showcase whenever he's onstage. With one set apiece of solo and full-band material, the stage was first set with Williams' typical tools including a bass, effects guitar and drum machine on stands, as well as his trusty acoustic strapped on.
He brings a whimsical feel to his solo material, making people laugh as much as they bob their heads along. His humorous songs touched on accidentally going through an airport TSA checkpoint with a spliff in his shirt ("Doobie In My Pocket"), or sent a big F U to the "cocksucking motherfuckers" who ruined his last chance to see the Grateful Dead at Deer Creek, Indiana before Jerry Garcia died in 1995 ("Gate Crashers Suck").
But once you get past the jokes, you can't help but to stare in awe at Williams' abilities, jumping around from instrument to instrument, looping each of them into some frantic rhythms that only his mind could come up with. While he's slimmed down the amount of instruments he brings with him, mainly because of his focus on the full band set to follow, he still makes the most of the equipment he has up there with him.
His solo set focused on both covers and originals, including an appropriate take on the New Orleans classic "Iko Iko," a spirited version of the Grateful Dead's "Shakedown Street," his own snowboarding-themed "Floating On the Freshies" that found him asking "Does Houston ever get snow?" in song, and a set-closing "Best Feeling" as requested by the screaming audience.
It was a decent set, but still felt a bit stale or overdone. Not that it was bad, but more or less the same thing Williams had been doing for year after year. While he's tried his hand at the full-band thing before, nothing has ever really stuck. He's fronted bluegrass bands with both the husband-and-wife duo the Keels and the Traveling McCourys, put out an album backed by String Cheese Incident, and toured with the rock band Modereko, but none of those projects could compare to what he brought to Fitzgerald's Tuesday.
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Backed by a mostly Virginian (Keller hails from Fredricksburg) group of instrumental and vocal aces (also dubbed More Than a Little), set two was a funk melee that found him putting a whole new set of wheels on some of his older classics. Everything he has ever done in his musical career seemed to finally come together on that stage in front of three or four hundred of Houston's finest jam fans.
It almost seemed as if what was happening on stage was exactly what Williams had been hearing in his head every time he had ever played solo. He not only played guitar and sang, but more or less served as a conductor to the funk train chugging along onstage. At times he would turn around and face the band, directing them to play or not play, or play louder or faster. It was almost like what he does during his solo show, but with other talented musicians playing those instruments for him: improvisation, but with direction.
With a whole world of material to pull from, as Williams has 20 studio and live albums in the books, More Than a Little culled together a fiery set that lasted more than two hours. And while the drunks who wandered over from BB's Cajun Mardi Gras celebration cross the street didn't make it through the entire show, those true fans stuck around to the very end and danced away their Tuesday night.
With this new band, Williams has seemed to have grown up and stepped into a new direction in his musical career. While I'm sure he'll continue on with his solo work, which he should as it's brilliant, the opportunities are endless with the talented cast of characters he's surrounded himself with. He's finally found his niche as a true bandleader, and with the talent that he possesses in just his little finger alone he should have no problems finding the right places for More Than a Little to go.
Personal Bias: It's been 12 years since my first Keller Williams show. That's a long time. I've interviewed him. I've hugged him. I've seen him in nine different states. I even saw him in Amsterdam for three nights in a row. These days it's more of a casual love affair, but I used to be a pretty big fan.
The Crowd:: Jam-band fans and Mardi Gras revelers
Overheard In the Crowd: "Summer camp!"
Random Notebook Dump: Williams' guitar frets read "Impeach Bush," which I found pretty funny.
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