Entering a Keller Williams crowd is always a specific experience. Those there for a good time have congregated around every possible square inch and when you are looking for a spot all to yourself, one almost never exists save for one certain place. In the back, near the soundboard, a light will shine and your moment becomes clear as what looks like a great opening presents itself. You saddle up along the wall, get ready for the show, when it suddenly dawns on you that your spot was too good to be true as you are planted directly behind the Freaker by the Speaker.
This is the guy or gal who has already had a good time, in fact the majority of their concert-going life was spent having such a good time, that the past rhythms and experiences are burnt into their consciousness forever. They dance to their own groove, they sing their own lyrics, and they have no idea why you are not on board. But they don't care; the freaker is simply unto itself until the show is over and those around are only along for the ride.
Opening the show was a British folk band dubbed The Melodic. The four-piece got into a few of their songs, coming off as less as saccharine than listening to a handful of YouTube snippets suggested. Those already predispositioned to dance enjoyed the band’s light rock and gave the group a pleasant reaction. Either an ironic gesture or one quite on the nose, the band does sport a few weirder instruments including a melodica.The guy/girl harmony and marching bass with a touch of jazzy drums made for a sticky enough groove to dance to before the main event. The whole thing was harmless and when something is constructed to be harmless, it can be successful in the right setting.
The Virginia native wants to play so bad that he starts strumming on his way to the stage. His bare feet skim across the laid carpet as he shimmers and spins his way to a dizzying stop. The show has begun before it even started and nobody is as relaxed or ready as Williams is. A menagerie of pedals, boards, loops, and doodads all built to serve his on-stage inspiration await those bare feet and nobody knows how to use them as well as the relaxed guitarist. With the tap of a spring or the brush of a pad, his guitar turns into a horn or something more abstract, like a guitar so wavey it sounds like it was built for Poseidon. At one point he had created so many layered loops that the only move he had left was to put everything down and just dance. Few artists marry the robotic perfection with the human element this well. He has certainly formulated his approach for each song when in the studio, but the live environment has little to no barriers.
By layering his vocals and creating a one-man BeeGees, Williams gives his songs a sort of singing metronome that let's him run wild on guitar. While a virtuoso by no means, the dude can shred, pick, and pluck with the best of them. He showed this by not playing a proper “song” for the first ten minutes or so and then a few stretches throughout, often letting the feeling of the moment take over the set.
When he did pick a cover to play, it started with “Scarlet Begonias” for the hippie faithful. With most songs, the first verse is a tease into something quite jam heavy but he stuck with it to the delight of the crowd. He kept the classic baseline looping in order to jump into Ani DiFranco’s “Freakshow,” teasing a bit of “Fire on the Mountain” at the end. It's not pandering if you know what you are doing and Keller was in complete control the entire time. Switching over to his personal tunes, a song like Kidney in a Cooler exemplifies what is great about his original material, straddling the goofy and poignant. Fans of Jack Black would find it easy to hop into the Keller universe, especially if acoustic guitar and comedy are your astrological signs..
In a moment of humble insanity, Williams asked the crowd for suggestions. Through the cacophony of suggestions, one lady took it upon herself to jump on stage and whisper her choice into his ear. Awesomely enough, he allowed her to do so before his stressed-out stagehand escorted her away. That song ended up being “Ninja of Love” and when it ended, it was the first time music had done so in over an hour and finally gave the audience a chance to applause in unison.
For one Thursday night, the Constellation Room did it's best Wakarusa impression and danced, smoked, and hollered their way through a non-stop Keller Williams show, something Southern California never gets to claim. And while there is always a freaker by the speaker, that's kind of the beauty of Williams. He isn't just lobbing perceptions from afar, unattached to his people. He used to be the audience he now draws and in some ways is their ultimate meta incarnation. Music for them, by them, done without a hint of patronization or embarrassment. It is that freedom and pure joy that creates the transformative and joyous occasion that is a Keller show.