Dar Williams, with Keller Williams
at the Whitaker Center,
Harrisburg, PA
(10 November 2002)

"There are people dancing down there!" This may not be a common sight at Harrisburg's Whitaker Center, but Sunday night's opening act, Keller Williams, had them up and on their feet. As free-spirited Tiffany Berry enthusiastically explained, "Music generates what? Good moods! So get up and dance!"

At first appearing to be your standard guy with a guitar singing folky, Phish-type covers, Keller quickly dispensed with that image when he broke out into a "robot dance" (an early break dance move), but the music kept going. The crowd, confused for just a moment, roared when they realized how it worked. "Phrase sampling" is the official name for what Keller does to produce his unique sound, but from the audience, it looks like magic.

Keller becomes his own backup band with the help of a machine that records, then feeds back out sound. Standing barefoot within a circle of guitars, Keller gets a jam on, records it by tapping his foot switch, then allows the machine to keep the backbeat while he grabs another guitar, and adds another layer to the music.

The Keller effect is something like the Dave Matthews Band or Dead Can Dance, if maybe Kurt Vonnegut wrote the words. Lyrics to his songs ranged from romantic to political, as in "Victory Song," an appeal for world peace. "Do you realize we are surrounded by an infinite army of laser-toting Martians?" Apparently, the planet in turmoil is left open to attack.

Then, after his charged opening set, Keller yielded the stage to another Williams, no relation.

Quietly, without introduction or preamble, Dar Williams took the stage, plugged in her guitar and launched into "Fishing in the Morning," a song with the beautiful lyrics: "We will live forever, and our days are dear and slow." Mentioning afterward that the song had been inspired by a dream, she giggled, admitted that the statement always garners laughs and admonished the crowd, "It's about fishing, people!"

In her introduction to "Spring Street," about making major life changes, she explained that she had been having an "existential response to a gentrified community."

"I felt I might, myself, be a gentrified community. There were parts of myself which used to be independently owned, which I had franchised," she said.

Dar kept the atmosphere friendly, even asking for requests, which made up the bulk of the show. Peppered throughout she told little stories about childhood, college, even of relatives long dead and gone. She then finished the show to two standing ovations and provided one encore, which included "The Babysitter's Here" and "Are You Out There."

The music seems almost to be just the backdrop to the stories Dar tells in her songs. Though the tunes are often lovely, and she sometimes rocks out, listening to the lyrics is an intellectual experience. Very far from the run of the mill, these songs are filled with fabulous, unexpected poetry.

- Rambles
written by Katie Knapp
published 23 November 2002

[ visit the artist's website ]