Posted by Nathan Etter on 10/13 at 05:30 PM
There are few singer-songwriters that have the ability to initiate a dance party in the chair-laden State Theatre, much less maintain it for over two and a half hours as the sole entertainer on stage. But Keller Williams is no ordinary singer-songwriter. Friday night, while Jay-Z rocked the BJC, Keller was welcomed back to State College with a sold-out theatre full of devoted fans. The one-man jam-band and festival circuit legend proceeded to deliver one of the most impressive performances of recent memory.
Keller’s trademark solo stage setup was an eye-opener: a massive concoction of instruments, effects, and any other odds and ends that might come in handy during one of William’s improvisational soundscapes. Mounted on a peg-board stretching the length of the stage was a collection of over a dozen guitars, banjos, and mandolins; almost all of which were used throughout the show. In addition, the stage featured an upright and electric bass, a full-size keyboard, an electronic drum pad, and enough percussion instruments to fill a music store; all for Keller and Keller alone.
Just after 8 p.m. Keller took to the stage—barefoot, as usual—wearing a black t-shirt and baggy blue scrubs. The entire center section of the theatre immediately stood and erupted into a chant of “Keller”. They would not return to their seats for the remainder of the night. Displaying his unique playing style on acoustic guitar—ridden with elements of bluegrass, jazz, funk and classical playing—Keller opened with an instrumental version of “Roshanbo” followed by a smooth take on the humorous track “Stupid Questions.”
Keller introduced his mind-blowing looping techniques throughout the show, including pitch-perfect three and four part vocal harmonies. During an extended cover of War’s “Low Rider”, Keller created a dance-inducing vocal rhythm by looping beat box effects and his own skat improv. Keller then danced over to the bass and looped a completely new bass-line every couple minutes, including a tease of Ben Harper’s Bring the Funk.
What was most impressive about Keller’s looping abilities was the constant variation in his methods. Rather than simply adding layers on top of one another, Williams was constantly at his soundboard altering levels, cutting tracks out, and transforming the overall feel of his jams. Using a medium that could easily become monotonous in the wrong hands, Keller was able to stay creative and unpredictable the entire night. While a rare percussive part was slightly out of time and created a displeasing feel when mixed with a bass or guitar riff, Keller’s tempo and interaction between instruments was spot-on the majority of the night.
After two comedic ballads on keyboard and an extended version of the crowd-favorite “Celebrate Your Youth” (see linked playlist) featuring unorthodox poly-rhythms, the first set ended at 9:30. After an hour and a half, Keller was just getting started.
The second set opened with a slow and haunting version of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”. It was here that Keller really demonstrated his unique vocal range. The track was followed by a dance-beat that flowed into the fun disco sing-a-long” Staying Alive” during which Keller did his best John Travolta impression and performed a mini disco dance routine to the delight of the crowd.
Throughout the night, Keller’s fun-loving attitude and intimate connection with the crowd was on full display. During multiple songs Williams mentioned his knowledge of the town and venue; noting football games, the State Theatre, and even the fact that Jay-Z was performing simultaneously in town. Keller also showed his humorous side, with lyrics like, “For every super hot girl in the front row/there’s a super insecure dude standing behind her” and “I’m not gay, but he had a nice face.”
The end of the show featured Keller on upright bass allowing the crowd to sing Steve Miller’s “The Joker,” a vocally-sharp take on his cosmetic comedy “Boob Job”, a funky jam in which Williams put a saxophone effect on his electric guitar, and an acoustic version of the hit “Kidney in a Cooler.”
By the time Keller left the stage, it was already after 11 p.m. He then returned to the stage with an African djembe drum and played a hilarious version of the vulgar anthem “Gate Crashers Suck” followed by a climactic though relatively short jam.
Author: Nathan Etter
Bio: Nate Etter is a senior double-majoring in public relations and political science with a passion for live music. In his spare time he drums in local bands (British Phil, The Twisted Groove), plays basketball, and writes. He enjoys a wide variety of music but remains obsessed with funk in all its forms. Favorite bands include Gov't Mule, Galactic, Incubus, Garaj Mahal, and The Avett Brothers.
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