Keller Williams: A one-man band

Web Special: The air was thick with smoke last Wednesday night in a packed Mr. Small's Theatre with hipsters, hippies, and preppy high-schoolers all here to see “jamband” superstar Keller Williams.

But let it be known: Williams is not your ordinary jamband. In fact, he isn’t a band at all. Armed with a plethora of acoustic guitars, electric and acoustic basses, a drum pad, and the latest in music technology, Williams is actually a one-man show.

Emerging from backstage with an acoustic guitar, Williams is all about energy: He strums hard from opening notes to closing, and he is always smiling. After an instrumental introduction, he eases his way into a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Eyes of the World,” a crowd-pleaser among a room full of avid Dead fans. Unlike many of his jamband peers, however, Williams is technically impressive, using syncopated hand-muting techniques, harmonics, and lightning-fast strumming patterns with soaring clarity. It is no surprise that Williams cites bass virtuoso Victor Wooten and jazz/jamband crossover guitarist Charlie Hunter as his biggest influences: They are two the most creative and technically proficient musicians of our time.

Just when you think Williams is just another Jack Johnson or Bob Dylan, he steps on a pedal and creates a loop of a guitar rhythm he seems to dig. Gazing off for a minute to see if he is satisfied, he puts his guitar down, strolls over to his electric bass, and lays down a bass line on top of the guitar. With guitar and bass in line looping, he runs over to his drums and quickly lays down a fast-paced techno beat before the audience grows tired. With a pulsing drumbeat now in line, the “Keller Williams Band” is grooving.

Now is when the show gets interesting. Williams takes various and sundry turns after completing this process four or five times. What makes his shows so entertaining is that you have no idea where he will go next. Oftentimes, he will beatbox over his techno beat. Sometimes he will rap, be it about boob jobs, court dates, pot, or bounty hunters. Other times, he will feature guest musicians, like a saxophonist and trumpeter. Or, in typical Keller fashion, he’ll play his own array of quirky instruments: Log drums, a cabasa, and a theremin were all in the arsenal.

Williams is clearly a unique musician with a great list of influences. Like the Grateful Dead once did, Williams makes sure to cite his influences through cover songs. On Wednesday night, Williams performed covers that spanned every genre from Miles Davis’ “So What” to the Allman Brothers Band’s “Midnight Rider” to Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry.”

Keller Williams’ list of influences is a pretty darn accurate representation of just how special he is. He has reeled in the jamband audiences with fun songs, long (perhaps sometimes too long) jams, and old-school covers. And, most impressively, he does it all by himself. “I am my own boss,” he sang during the performance. That you are, Keller. And a damn good one at that.