Keller Williams @ Fitzgerald’s
For the first time in over five years, time and travel tested performer Keller Williams brought his one-man circus to the most appropriate venue I’ve seen him at in years, Houston’s newly revamped hot-spot Fitzgerald’s. After a conversation Bacon and I had with Kellerlast year before his gig in Dallas, we learned his absence in Houston was due to many things, but mainly stemmed back to his young children and his propensity to be with them on more of a regular occasion. No worries Keller, we still love you and will welcome you with open arms any time you decide to come back. Hopefully, though, it’s sooner than 2016.
The night was billed as “An Evening With Keller Williams,” which typically means that there would be no opener, just the main event. We arrived a bit after the 9pm start time to find that he hadn’t gone on yet. We made our way towards the front of the stage just as the house lights came off and Keller stepped onto stage, already strumming out one of his many acoustic instrumentals. His first true song of the night was a bluegrass-y cover of the über-popular Amy Winehouse track “Rehab,” which Keller originally covered on his 2nd album with Larry and Jenny Keel. It was definitely an interesting way to enter a set that never seemed as balanced as Keller’s usual sets, but one that was still chock-full of joyous little nuggets of musical goodness. Soon a nice little tribute to Texas came with a one-off cover of Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “The House Is Rockin'” immediately followed up with his first original of the night, and an old one at that, “Tribe.” By this time, Keller had already begun using his trademark live-looping, jumping all over the stage handling his plethora of instruments, toys and noise-makers, working them into one quirky beat after another. A slowed-down, honkey-tonk cover of Sublime’s “Santeria” was to say the least, a bit underwhelming, and lead me to take a smoke break on the front balcony.
While outside, and still being able to hear the music, albeit muffled, through the thin exterior walls, there was nothing in the next few songs that really stuck out, so I took the time to talk to a group of good friends also in attendance. Soon, though, I heard the opening chords of his original “Stupid Questions,” which served as my cue to head on back inside. While I don’t really love this song, it was just good to hear it as it brought me back to my early 2000’s when I had fun times on the mind, rather than how I’m gonna make rent this month. After “Questions,” his classic instrumental “Thin Mint” was followed up by “Apparition,” another tune that brought me back to those early years. The set highlight, and appropriately the set closer, was a take on the Talking Heads’ “Once In A Lifetime.” What was so significant about this is that I had been rocking Stop Making Sense for over a week straight in my car, and told Bacon walking up to the show that there was nothing I’d rather hear more than the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody).” While I didn’t get my exact song, I did get the very next track from Stop Making Sense. I’ll take it.
After a half-an-hour setbreak, Keller returned to the stage as he did at the beginning of the show, strumming out another instrumental while what seemed like a much bigger crowd than during the first set established their spots on the floor. Set one was an appetizer to set two’s main course. Keller came back to stage with a much more established vigor than previously shown in the entire set before. Must’ve been a good setbreak for him… An early set standout was a take on Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead Or Alive” that was basically put out there for the sing-a-long aspect only. Play that song in any Houston club or bar, and it will be sung loudly by a majority of the crowd. Despite never really liking that song, I still shouted out every lyric with glee. Good call, Keller. Soon a slowed down version of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” was followed up by a spirited, loop-heavy “Celebrate Your Youth,” a song that has taken on so many different variations since I first heard him perform it at Bonnaroo in 2003. A few songs later, Keller jumped into four different crazy-themed songs all packaged nicely together in one little medley: Seal’s “Crazy,” Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy” and Willie Nelson’s/Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.” Finally the set eclipsed and ended with a Grateful Dead twofer, with some Ani DiFranco thrown in for good measure. First was the Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias,” which is always a treat to hear, and was immediately segued into the music for The Dead’s “Fire On The Mountain.” “Scarlet” into “Fire” is a segue that The Dead made on several occasions, and one that Keller has covered before, but during this performance he threw in the lyrics of another of his regular covers, DiFranco’s “Freakshow,” on top of the music for “Fire.” A very solid live mash-up, something Keller does best. At the end of the “Fire On The Freakshow,” Keller exited stage right for a brief moment, and came back equipped only a laptop, and what seemed to be a few different pre-looped beats. After toying around for a bit, he abruptly finished his set, said his thanks and left the stage.
I’ve seen Keller upwards of twenty times now, and this was just somewhere in the middle of my favorites. With that being said, though, it’s still put above and beyond most bands I see on a regular basis. Keller is a sight to be seen, and can only truly be appreciated in the live format. On top of that, his first return to Houston in five-plus years matched by Fitzgerald’s stellar sound and lighting, and an electric energy in the room throughout the entire show, and this set will always stand out to me above many. I hope that Keller will make a return trip soon, and by the sound of his banter throughout the set, it sure seems as if we will see him again on his next national go-around.
Thanks to Free Press Houston and Pegstar.net for continually making things happen in Houston’s music scene. Bringing a wide array of talented performers from all genre’s of music is what is going to give this city the national respect it so fittingly deserves and is currently garnering. Keep it up guys!