Keller Williams at Fitzgerald's, 3/4/2014
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.
Review continues on the next page.