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Keller Williams showcases the magnitude of a one-man band

February 23, 2005 - By ALAN SCULLEY

For the Call

One of the most enjoyable facets of Kel-ler Williams' recently released two-disc live set, "Stage," is the variety of cover songs mixed in with originals on the CD.

The diversity is remarkable, with tunes that range from "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugarhill Gang to the Buffalo Springfield classic "For What It's Worth" to Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" to the Queen/David Bowie tune, "Under Pressure" — all served up in Williams' distinctive, skewed folk style.

"I think it, to me, spells out attention def-icit disorder maybe," Williams responded when asked what the variety of covers says about his musical tastes. "I think that's what my whole stage show is about. I'm kind of a poster child for ADD ... My normal stage shows there are a lot of different places that I can go musically as far as instruments and toys and things like that.

"That, mixed in with how all over the place the covers are, I should be sponsored by some ADD drug,'' he added.

The "Stage" set captures Williams working in two very different types of settings.

The first disc, "Stage Left," was taken al-most entirely from a 2003 show at Cal Poly Theatre in San Luis Obispo, Calif. where Williams played to a sit-down crowd.

The second disc, "Stage Right," is culled from shows in 2003 at a variety of venues where crowds generally stand, dance and help create a looser vibe.

The settings for "Stage" may be different, but both discs capture the one-man-band approach that has made Williams a unique solo performer.

On stage, he augments the standard in-struments of guitar and vocals with a variety of other instruments, including bass, keyboards and drums.

Using a technique he calls live-phrase sampling, Williams creates the illusion of having several musicians on stage by stepping on an effects button to record, for instance, a keyboard part.

By pressing the button again, the keyboard part gets played back, and Williams can then layer on another part on a different instrument. Repeating this process creates a multi-instrument backing that Wil-liams can play and sing along with live.

Williams, though, didn't develop this type of performance until his career was well under way.

A native of Fredericksburg, Va., Williams came onto the national scene in 1994 with the album "Freek," after several years of gigging around the Virginia area.

But it was after Williams moved to Col-orado in 1995 that his career began to pick up steam.

While there, he happened to check out a show by the String Cheese Incident, a then-fledgling group that has gone on to become one of the most popular acts on the jam-band scene.

Williams struck up a friendship with the String Cheese Incident and soon began to do shows with the group, garnering a following within the jam band circuit along the way.

Two more studio albums followed, "Buzz" in 1996 and "Spun" in 1998, before Wil-liams signed with Sci-Fidelty Records, the label founded by the String Cheese Inci-dent. His first release on the label was "Breathe," a 1999 CD that found Williams collaborating with the String Cheese In-cident.

Before making "Breathe," Williams had begun to explore live phrase sampling, and "Loop," a 2001 live CD, captures Williams as he was just beginning to master the rudiments of live-phrase sampling.

"'Loop' was an exciting record for me at the time because I was exploring this new kind of a technique and it was the beginning stages of this technique," Williams said.

"'Stage' is kind of an elaboration, kind of using the same techniques, but with more toys. 'Stage' is kind of where 'Loop' has evolved," he explained.

Williams followed "Loop" with three more studio efforts — "Laugh" in 2002, a "Laugh" remix in 2003 called "Dance" and "Home" also in 2003.

Besides showing Williams' improved live-phrase sampling abilities, "Stage" also provides a good example of his quirky folk sound and his offbeat sense of humor.

Though often called a folk artist, Will-iams easily skirts the confines of that genre. Unlike the strummy, melodic sound many associate with folk, Williams' playing style is more jagged and percussive, and his melodies are more angular and jazzy.

This sound, though, seems appropriate for the offbeat originals that Williams often sings. "Novelty Song," "Blazeabago" and "One Way Johnny" are good lyrical examples included on "Stage."

Of course, as an audio CD, one thing "Stage" can't show is how Williams builds his multilayered live sound. But Williams' fans can expect that problem to be solved later this year when he releases his first live DVD.

"I'm really looking forward to how this comes out," he said. "I've only seen one (camera) angle, but there are five different angles. I'm really excited to see what comes of it."

Keller Williams plays Saturday, Feb. 26, at the Pageant, 6161 Delmar Blvd. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show cost $20.

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