Charlotte, North Carolina
December 31, 2009
Keller Williams isn’t a musician – he’s a performer, the court jester who you can never really be sure whether he’s trying to make you laugh or pushing to make you think. He is a one man show by every definition, but on New Year’s Eve at Charlotte, North Carolina’s Neighborhood Theatre, he brought the Added Bonus with him.
Walking into the venue, it was clear that a party was going to take place. There were balloons and confetti hanging from everything, party favors for the taking as you entered the venue, and people dressed in costumes. The ambiance was there – all the crowd needed was the main event.
The show, billed as "K-Dub’s Nocturnal Never Negative New Year’s Nomadic Notion," was the culmination of a four night run with his temporary band, the Added Bonus. It was to be a three set night, one solo and two with the band. Keller took the stage sharply at nine and opened the show with "Vacate." He forcefully sang when letting the audince know they "have the right to remain silent, but also to yell!" He then moved seamlessly into "Blazeabago."
After running through a few songs he went into a tune called "Rush Limbaugh," with politically-charged lyrics about freedom of speech and the beauty of America. In it, Keller declared that he supports old Rush’s right to say whatever he wants, but at the same time, he expects the same right to state that Rush is an "asshole" and a "douchebag." The song got particularly caustic when singing about Rush’s hypocrisy about drugs. Keller quipped that while he’s never tried oxycontin he would if Rush offered, since Rush probably has the best stash. The song woke the spirits of Woody Guthrie, but despite its frustrating content, was delivered with Keller’s cool, collected demeanor. It even had a dance to go with it. While Keller sang "I want to see Rush back that ass up," he got the crowd doing his booty-shake, back-up dance.
The set was rounded out nicely with a killer acoustic take on "Birds of a Feather," and Keller closed out the set with his percussion and vocal version of Ani Difranco’s "Freakshow," singing "Welcome to the freakshow, here he go," letting the audience know what was to come. His "stick around, we’ll be right back" was redundant; everyone knew that the party was just about to start.
This was Keller’s night; it was our Freakshow.
For the second set, Keller brought out the band. The Added Bonus (Toby Fairchild – drums; Claude Arthur – bass; Jay Starling – guitar, dobro, lap steel and keys) opened the set with "Vagenda" and "Warning!" After a few more songs, Fairchild and Starling walked off stage while Keller played "Elephorse" as a duet with Arthur on his upright bass. Starling reemerged and pulled out his dobro while Keller put down his guitar and picked up his mini-twelve string which he plays like a mandolin, and the two played "Friend of the Devil" and a bluegrass-tinged "Bertha" along with originals "Spartan" and "Doobie In My Pocket." The mini-set-within-a-set was a hootin’, hollerin’ hoe-down.
Then Fairchild retook the stage, Arthur exited, and Keller picked up his bass as they played as a keys/bass/drums trio on "Hollywood Freaks" and "Buena." With that, the second set was complete. Keller promised more to come soon and the band took a much deserved set break.
Keller once again took the stage, opening the third set solo with about fifteen minutes to spare before midnight. With just his drum machine, voice and his looping gear, he entertained the crowd, singing, drumming and dancing.
The band rejoined him for "Celebrate," where Keller reminded us all, young and old, to celebrate our youth. This crowd didn’t need the reminder – not tonight – but everyone was happy to sing along all the same. Then the countdown began.
At midnight, the band burst into the expected, but nonetheless vibrant, "Auld Lang Syne" with Starling covering the melody line on his lap steel. They went straight from that into what was probably the rockingest part of the evening, a loud and heavy take on "Shakedown Street." Fairchild is a killer drummer, playing funk, rock and jazz interchangeably, and Arthur, who had played a smooth and solid upright bass all throughout the second set, picked up his electric for the entire final set. He was as funky on the electric as he was tasteful on the upright. It was at this point in the night that the two really came together as a rhythm section.
Starling, along with playing his lap instruments, also ripped solos and accompanied brilliantly on the clav, organ, keyboards and guitar throughout the night. "Shakedown Street" became "More That a Little" and then the band did a surprisingly fresh and innovative take on Marcy Playground’s "Sex and Candy." Just to make sure that no one in the room started thinking that they understood the nature of this short-lived band, they played a rock and roll version of Miles Davis’s "All Blues." They tore through the head before getting weird, just like Davis would have expected.
On "Men Smart, Women Smarter," Keller and Fairchild traded drum solos, Fairchild on his kit, Keller on his drum machine. Each offered a suitable challenge to the other and they were clearly pushing one another with each new round of their battle. After Keller sang us the story of his "Missing Remote," they played the Butthole Surfers’ " Pepper," the oft-forgotten, but always loved, hit from the 90s, a song that Keller had done with the WMDs, but the Added Bonus made their own. They played "Art" and the set was over.
It was well after one and the show had been going for over four hours, but of course the band came back out for one more, "I Love California." It was short and sweet but a nice close to an already musically packed evening. Then, just to make sure that the crowd knew that though Keller was done, the party was not, "Sex Machine" was blared over the PA and anyone who had any dance left in them was welcomed to stick around and try and work out their energy.
Keller had promised a Live Solo Looping Dance Party and a Grassy Disco Jazz Funk Performance, and made good on all of it and so much more. It was a new year, a new decade and a brilliant night. And for what more can one ask?
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