Live at the Hamilton
Washington, DC | April 18th
Review by: Patrick Hynes | Photos by : The Lot Scene
Fredericksburg, Virginia native Keller Williams is often referred to as the “one-man jam band”. That label is sometimes misleading because nobody else in the jam scene plays with more musicians than Keller. Whether it is his own project (Keller and the Keels, Grateful Grass, Kdubalicious) or frequent collaborations with a diverse range of groups (String Cheese Incident, The Travelin’ McCoury’s, More Than a Little), Keller is always keeping his fans on their toes with fresh ideas. This past weekend, he collaborated with some familiar friends, guitarist Gibb Droll and drummer Jeff Sipe (Aquarium Rescue Unit) for four dates throughout the mid-Atlantic. We caught his Friday night show at The Hamilton in downtown DC.
Keller kicked off the evening with a solo set, where he displayed his trademarked ability to simulate a full band by utilizing his Gibson Echoplex looper. Before he dove into the looping effects, he captured the audience with only his Martin 6-string in hand for a few songs. He started off with a straight jam in “Cookies”, followed by a segue of “Cadillac”>”Born a Rebel” > “Cadillac”. These first couple of songs proved that Keller has the picking ability and voice to play a great show with only an acoustic guitar, and the crowd was really feeling it before he touched another instrument.
Keller started to utilize his looper by transitioning into a funky jam after “Cadillac”. He put several of his instruments to work right away, including his Godin electric guitar, a bass guitar, and drum machine. “She Rolls” showcased both Keller’s comedic lyrics and his capability to nail the high note. Keller continued to display his outlandish sense of humor with tunes like “Super Hot Girl” and the stoner-jam “Doobie in My Pocket”. The highlight of the first set was “Blatant Ripoff”, a song with few lyrics that he just jammed out with virtually every instrument on stage (an there’s a lot of them). The jam came to a climax when Keller brought out his Korg Kaossilator, a tiny handheld synthesizer that produced a keyboard-like sound, which he combined with a deep bass loop to make a spacey electro-funk groove. You don’t see many artists bring out such obscure instruments very often, and to see Keller master it was a real treat. The first set came to a perfect conclusion with a cover of the Talking Head’s carefree tune “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)”, with Keller again showing his mastery of the acoustic guitar.
After a short break, Keller came back on stage with Droll on guitar and Sipe on drums. This trio usually includes bassist Keith Moseley of the String Cheese Incident in their act, but he was unable to join understandably due to SCI’s upcoming tour and album release. Keller more than made up for his absence by taking the lead on the bass, which he used to express his love of funk and reggae. Combining that will Droll’s bluesy guitar tone and Snipe’s on-point rhythms created a truly amazing set of music that ranged from deep funk to high-energy rock jams.
This whole set was an amazing display of improvisational music, but there were certainly a few highlights. Their version of “Kiwi and the Apricot” went on and off between a bass-driven funk dance party to face-melting riffs from Droll. Whenever you can combine funk with the blues in one song so successfully, it’s a must listen. A lengthy rendition of the Grateful Dead’s “Eyes of the World” was the best jam of the night. Droll channeled his inner-Jerry here while showcasing his incredible tone with both spacey and heart-pounding jamming. The chemistry between these three musicians was impeccable all night and it really shined in this song. After playing a few of Droll’s bluesy tracks, they dove into Keller’s “Breathe”, the title track from his collaboration album with SCI. Sipe carried the jam in this version, Droll chipped in with incredible tone, and Keller finished it up with strong acapella. After a few more high-energy jams, the trio left the stage while the crowd’s enthusiasm was at a high. They answered the audience’s prayers for more music and came back on stage to play a killer version of Keller’s hit, “Best Feeling”. While I’ve never heard a lackluster performance of this song, this was the best version I’ve heard. Droll deserves the credit for making this a special one, as his incredible guitar solo took the audience on a journey that wrapped up the show in the best way possible.
Needless to say, this show blew my expectations out of the water. Keller always puts on a great show, but Gibb Droll and Jeff Sipe take it to another level. Droll displayed an amazing range of influences in his guitar playing and Sipe is a flawless drummer who has played with the best of them. They are two of the elite musicians in the jam scene, and the perfect complements to Keller’s music. Although this trio doesn’t have any future dates planned right now, Keller will be touring heavily on the summer festival circuit as always. He will be collaborating with the Keels, the Travelin’ McCourey’s, and More Than A Little for several dates in the next few months. He’s bringing back the Grateful Grass ensemble with Jeff Austin and Keith Moseley at the highly anticipated Lock’n Festival in Virginia this September.