Keller Williams and the “More Than A Little” Band The Madison Theater Covington, Ky 1-16-2014
Words and Photos by Rex Thomson
On a cold winter night in the shadows of downtown Cincinnati, Keller Williams brought his particular brand of musical heat and the light of his ever present smile to the Madison Theater. It’s been seventeen years since Keller first came to the shores of the River City, and though their might be a few more lines on his face, the positive energy and musical dexterity he brings to the stage hasn’t changed a bit. Williams is something of a “Swiss Army Musician,” a jack of all trades perfectly capable of playing any genre of music at any point, often effortlessly slipping through styles from song to song. On tour with his “More Than A Little” funk band, he showcased the newest facet to a seemingly infinite array of skills, funk supremacy.
Cincinnati was something of a rough and tumble city in the riverboat days, and Covington, which sits across the Ohio River, was the place where the worst of the city’s sins were carried out. The gambling dens and houses of ill repute are long gone however, but the architecture and spectacular views of the skyline from the hills remain. The Madison Theater was converted from a old style movie theater over twenty years ago, and with its numerous tiers and balconies it offers stellar acoustics and clear sight lines to it’s thousand plus person capacity. With it’s old school lighted marquee and the late 1900’s facade, the Madison stand as a timeless reminder of the past, while embracing the modern music of the new day.
Honoring the spirit of the old time “One Man Bands,” Keller Williams first made his mark using technology to replicate the various instruments his forebears would comically strap to themselves. With an array of guitars on stands, and a battery of effects and MIDI looping pedals, drum machines and a little box with knobs he would twist and turn to make everything sound like a science fiction movie from the fifties, Keller filled his solo opening set with a display of effortless virtuosity. Jumping from instrument to instrument, playing a short bass or guitar lick, manipulating it to repeatedly play, then adding yet another guitar line or vocal harmony, he would erect a sonic foundation that he could then sing and play along to, all while engaging the crowd with the comical banter for which he has become known.With songs about imagination, keeping an open mind and dreams about being a contestant on the “Price Is Right, ” Williams laughed, took requests and even accepted gifts from the audience during a fifty minute blast of good vibes.
After a short break, the stage began to bump as the rhythm section took the stage to lay down a funky beat and get the crowd going. After being responsible for the entirety of the sound in the first set, Keller came dancing onto the stage, a quick change from his jeans and t-shirt into a stylish suit, dancing and obviously happy to have the company. With the keyboardist laying down funky organ lines, a pair of sultry soul singers flanked him, and together they launched into a set of new tunes from his most recent album, classics from his songbook and even some stellar covers. Able to fit himself into bluegrass, rock and even metal formats with ease, seeing Williams stretch out into the funk/soul arena was a welcome addition to his body of work. His guitar tone, light and cutting, worked well with the dense bass and percussion, keeping him front and center without overpowering the rest of the players. Highlights included the title track from the newest release, “More Than A Little” and “Let’s Jam” also from the latest disc, a reworked version of the classic “Best Feeling in The World” and a moving reworking of the Talking Heads classic “Naive Melody.” Using an acapella rendition of that songs melody sung by Keller and the two back up singers an a pair of lengthy instrumental breaks that showed off the keyboardists heart and the drummers dexterity the much covered song found fresh life. The crowd responded to this tune and the rest with a heartfelt enthusiasm that was plain to see.
There are many ways to measure the success of a performance, the crassest being ticket and merchandise sales, which judging from the packed floor and depleted stock on the table by the door seemed to have done just fine. But the truest tell of a shows worth is the response of those in attendance, and the smiling faces, cheers and twirling dancers spoke volumes on the love that was flowing between Williams, the band and the crowd. As he closed the final song of the night, Keller gave thanks to the audience that seemed to come directly from his heart, and the response he got was loud, long and boisterous. The old adage for show business goes “Always leave them wanting more,” and on this cold Thursday night Williams did just that. The next time he comes to town he could very well be fronting a disco gypsy band with a Norwegian Fluegulhorn soloist, and the room would be just as packed, trusting in the man who’s never failed to do the most important thing a musician can do…entertain.