Friday night, the one-man jam-band wonder Keller Williams (not to be confused with the real estate company of the same moniker) played an unforgettable show at Revolution. Williams or “K-Dub,” if you prefer, got his career started when he offered to play with String Cheese Incident after seeing them play in Colorado, in return for free ski passes — a gig which later morphed into the collaborative Keller Williams Incident and propelled him on his path to fame in the jam band scene. Throughout his genre-bending career, he has collaborated with a host of other bands, from the bluegrass duo Larry and Jenny Keel (Keller & The Keels) to a project dubbed The Sexy Bitches with members of moe. and Umphrey’s McGee. While each of these side projects exemplify a different facet of Williams’ mastered craft, it is his one-man show which ultimately showcases his considerable talent and bright future as an accomplished “musician’s musician.”
Arriving early, the stage setup quickly grabbed my attention. There were guitars hoisted up on stands, a lone microphone at center stage, a stash of “miscellaneous” instruments such as a triangle and bells, and a mixer surrounding the red, plush carpet in the middle of the stage, where he would ultimately “cut a rug” on during his trademark barefoot performance later that night. I couldn’t help but smile, knowing we were all about to be treated a show that would mirror the many videos I had seen of his one-man show. While I was initially shocked (or maybe saddened) by what appeared to be a small turnout, it wasn’t long before my faith in humanity was restored as fans of all ages and backgrounds began to file in for the grooviest dance party in town. Middle-aged, bearded men in tie-dye shirts, young women dressed up in cat ears dancing with glow-in-the-dark hula hoops and a clique of pre-teen girls with a chaperone in tow were among those who would soon begin to claim their stake on the dance floor. During the opening act, a funky, bass-trembling cover of the BeeGee’s “Stayin’ Alive” I asked the girls to pose for a photo, when they pointed to the beaming girl in front and squealed, “It’s her birthday!” All I could think to myself was how I wished I knew music like this existed at her age.
One of the most exciting things about witnessing Williams perform his magic live is the way the audience gets a “backstage” view of the musical production process. While seasoned fans may know right off the bat which song he has begun to piece together, the rest of the crowd can enjoy the pleasure of listening to the slow build-up of the song as he plays, records, and loops live on stage, waiting for that moment of recognition as he drops a familiar beat or lyric.
This is performance art at its best — a show you can attend with zero knowledge of the artist or his music and still dance your ass off to some of the funkiest, liveliest, most effervescent music to ever pulse through your body on a dance floor. While Williams played a few tracks from his repertoire of original music (the saccharine “She’s My Something Else,” “I Love California” became “I Love Arkansas”), some of the biggest crowd-pleasers of the night were the many covers from a wide range of musical genres and eras, among them G. Love’s “Back of the Bus,” Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is in the Heart,” The Butthole Surfers song “Pepper,” and an interlude of “Crazy” during his most well-known tune “Freeker By The Speaker,” melding bits and pieces of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy” and Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.”
For those of us who thought it couldn’t possibly get any better, Williams surprised the adoring crowd with The Beatles’ “Drive My Car” to wrap up the night, complete with trucker hat and dancing a la 2004’s “Lean Back” by Terror Squad and Fat Joe. Simply awesome.
If you are a fan of live music, dancing, feeling like you are a part of a live show, or rugs that really tie the stage together, man, do yourself a favor and buy a ticket next time Keller Williams graces Little Rock with his presence. I know I’ll certainly be there, with my dancin’ shoes ready to go. “Beep-beep, beep-beep, yeahhh!”