Keller Williams with Moseley, Droll and Sipe :: 11.12.08 :: Domino Room :: Bend, OR
Almost two years to the day after his solo show almost sold out the Midtown Ballroom, Keller Williams returned to Bend. But this time around, there were two striking differences. First off, the often-solo Williams was playing with his all-star cast of musicians, billing the show as Keller Williams with Moseley, Droll and Sipe (enter any and all law firm jokes), and secondly, the show was in the Domino Room, the much smaller club adjoined to the Midtown. The crowd was smaller, the dynamics of the full-band sound a little looser than typical Keller, but at the end of the night it was the same old Keller.
In a time when the jam band scene is both shifting and shrinking, as Williams noted in interviews before setting out on the West Coast tour that landed his band in Oregon, the onstage chemistry of Keith Moseley (bass), Gibb Droll (guitar) and Jeff Sipe (drums) is a reminder of why the genre still matters. The act doesn't necessarily deliver the mathematically precise numbers Keller is able to master during his looping, instrument-hopping live solo shows, but it's in KWMDS' unpredictability that their true appeal lies.
Keller, dressed in a baggy t-shirt and what appeared to be pajama pants, and the rest of the equally casual lineup ushered in a late arriving crowd with an instrumental jam, keeping things largely funky and more or less on the slow side. Hardcore Keller fans shouted out requests, many of which were the time-tested standards that have powered the one-man band since his String Cheese Incident-following days of the late '90s. Possibly by coincidence, Keller and company launched into Kiwi and the Apricot" soon after a bouncing young woman shouted out the title, and the cut had all the panache it does when Keller takes it on solo. If there were any picky Keller fans (i.e. the type of folks who've knocked the full band tour on the message boards - and there's plenty of them out there) in the mix they were keeping their reservations to themselves.
Late in the first set, Moseley, just as he did during his String Cheese days, shyly got behind the microphone and used his rootsy voice to lead the quartet in a dead-on rendition of The Band's classic Ophelia," with all four members lending their efforts to the chorus. A cover of Ophelia" might not seem that remarkable - it's a common staple for other touring acts as well - but KWMDS nailed it with an eerie sort of precision that hints to the fact that this band could probably play just about any cover they want, and do it well.
Without overpowering the band's namesake, Droll put his guitar in the spotlight - at least figuratively, considering he was hidden behind a speaker stack for much of the show, a position he didn't seem to mind. Droll lit up the room with explosive, quick-paced solos that shied away from excessive noodling in favor of attention to melody that snuggled him nicely into the dynamics of the band's improvisations.
In the second set, Keller emanated his bubbly, sometimes goofy personality of old (which seemed somewhat absent from the first set), clearly not minding the silliness dripping into songs like Ninja of Love." And the goofiness continued as Keller half-rapped/half spoke about a dream he had of riding in a convertible with Aretha Franklin and Carole King. Without much hesitation, the band broke into King's Natural Woman," with Keller taking the lead vocals and the band in whole, as well as the 500-some-odd assembly of fans, blasting out the classic chorus. Again, these guys are damn good with covers, which in a way makes sense given that three-fourths of the band is, in a way, playing a set of Keller Williams covers.
With the Cascade Mountain range towering over the town, Keller used his snowboard-themed track Freshies" to pump a crowd littered with ski bums anxious for the upcoming season, despite the fact that balmy temperatures on that night and much of the week to come worked to delay the opening of nearby Mt. Bachelor. Keller has always been funny as hell (at least when he wants to be) and this night's rendition of Freshies" had the shaggy haired songster freestyle rapping over a sexy funk groove about the importance of waking up early for a day of skiing.
The laughs soon melted into the sorts of hoots and hollers that result when musicians as terrifyingly talented as Keller and company are moving at full speed - which they were as the second set rose to a fever pitch, culminating in a second-set closing Best Feeling." There was a certain scent of nostalgia in the air during the poppy track from Keller's Buzz album, that is now (perhaps unbelievably) almost 13 years old, as the somewhat thinned-out crowd belted out the song's super positive chorus.
For Keller, the venues and crowds might be getting smaller but it seems his following is as devoted as ever - and for good reason. This guy is still bringing the heat, and still isn't afraid to wear his pajamas onstage.
Keller and crew are on tour now, dates available here.