Hoots, hollers and applause rose up from the crowd as one-man band and looping master Keller Williams strolled onto the Upstate Concert Hall stage with a jolly smile. He wore the same familiar haircut, earth-tone khakis and T-shirt that he normally performs in—with no shoes of course.
Keller opened with “Cadillac,” looping acoustic guitar riffs to create a full, rich sound. Within the layers he started a reggae rhythm and, after making funny faces, animated gestures and adjustments to his equalizer, he bopped his way into “Positive.”
Being a man of many genres, Keller made an easy transition from reggae to jam with a cover of the Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias.” Some of the other genres he dabbled in included jazz, funk, alternative rock, bluegrass, folk, electronica and more. Very often he’d incorporate multiple styles into one jam with complex rhythms and chord progressions. Within “Scarlet Begonias,” Keller used his mouth to create trumpet sounds—the “mouth flugel.” In the spirit of Grateful Dead covers, he followed it up with “Fire on the Mountain.” Later he also played “Birds of a Feather” by Phish and “What I Got” by Sublime.
Once the crowd got its Dead fix, Keller reverted back to his own music, including “Kiwi and Apricot” and “Stupid Questions.” During these songs, he used oboe and clarinet sounds from his keyboard, country singing and jazzy scat. He also played the hidden track, “Super Hot Girl” off his seventeenth album Bass. The lyric, “For every super hot girl in the front row, there’s a super insecure dude standing behind her,” rang true in the crowd.
After an intermission, Keller was back on stage and going full-throttle. Loyal fans noted how on-point he sounded and that he seemed to be genuinely having fun with the crowd. During “Restraint,” Keller sang, “I wanna jump your bones, but you’re on the phone and it sounds kind of important.” And after “Doobie in My Pocket,” he dropped a heavy dubstep beat. This unlikely turn became “Freaker by the Speaker,” and everyone joined in with the lyrics. The dubstep beat then lead into a reggae cover of “Word Up” by Cameo. This later led to covers of “A Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin and “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley. Although the night featured a string of covers, Keller made each one unique.
Shouts for an encore led Keller to ask, “Do you want to hear acoustic guitar music or crazy drum music?” The drums won the vote and Keller pulled out every percussion instrument you ever played in your elementary-school music class: bells, maracas, tambourines, and triangles. It was easy to see that both Keller and the audience could have kept going late into the night but, despite the curfew, everyone left smiling because Keller Williams embodies fun and play.