Guitarist shows musical muscle

Friday, April 4, 2003

Clad in khaki cargo pants, barefoot and bathed in pastel light, Keller Williams took to the stage Wednesday night before a packed house at Liberty Hall, unleashing a pair of hourlong sets. Nearly any idiot can pick up a guitar, bang out a few power chords and turn it into a song (Good Charlotte comes to mind), but Williams' brand of acoustic jam rock showed true musicianship.

Much like a one-man jam band, Williams often constructed grooves and songs from the bottom up. Despite the acoustic-based set, there was a strong element of technology to the guitar virtuoso's performance. He started many songs with a riff, then digitally looped it before moving on to the next instrument (usually bass or percussion) and building on what he'd already started.

Williams has a soft, soothing voice, and he makes the most of a limited vocal range. But the real stars of the concert are his guitars (10 were used throughout the evening). He was zipper-lipped throughout most of the show, letting the music speak for him. Much of his style seems based around classic and modern jam bands such as The Grateful Dead, Phish and Leftover Salmon. But what sets Williams apart is how much mileage he gets just from himself, without needing any other musicians on stage.

The show featured songs from his most recent album, "Dance," but he also played older material. The final number in his first set was a completely impromptu bass-only novelty song called "Focus On the Bass," which showcased his proficiency on instruments other than guitar and his wit and quick thinking behind the mike.

One of the more entertaining aspects of a Williams show is the way he takes songs as wide-ranging as Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure" and The Presidents of the United States of America's "Bath of Fire" and makes them his own, giving them elements of jam music, country and bluegrass. But the icing on the cake came in the encore, with a reggae-tinged version of The Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight."

Aaron Passman is a Kansas University journalism student.