Thursday, October 1, 2009

Welcome To The Folds

I've now seen both ends of the Ben Folds performance spectrum. We saw him about this time last year when he was touring with a 5-piece band, playing mostly stuff from his production-heavy recent album Way to Normal. This time around, he had a piano. That was it.

In the spirit of the Ben Folds Live album, Folds put on a somewhat informal, rather low-key show that was heavy on audience interaction and pulled from his entire catalog, including three new songs from a forthcoming collaboration with--of all people--novelist Nick Hornby. We got Army from Reinhold Meissner and nothing at all from the self-title Ben Folds Five album, although the encore consisted entirely of songs from Whatever and Ever, Amen... including one of my all-time favorites: Selfless, Cold, and Composed.

I realized I should probably give Songs for Silverman a few more listens, because he played four songs from that record, none of which I knew too well. He played a handful from Way to Normal, including rousing versions of Dr. Yang and Effington. The best-represented album was probably Rockin' the Suburbs with 5 songs: Still Fighting It, Annie Waits, Zakk and Sara, Not the Same and, oddly, Rockin' the Suburbs.

He opened with a shortened rendition of Free Coffee and played a few lighter songs before launching into an impromptu number about the coat-check/soft-drinks sign on the wall facing him. This quickly devolved into something about his tuna sandwich tasting like burnt plastic because tuna is treated with carbon monoxide to make it stay pink.

Swear to god...

It was funny to watch this, because when he got to a part about Googling "burnt plastic" and "tuna" he realized that his creation had grown perhaps a bit beyond his control and sat shaking his head as he played for a few measures before going into carbon monoxide treatments of sandwich fish... with the coat check... and the soft drinks... and the green exit sign... etc, etc, etc.

We had pretty decent seats--third row back in the balcony, right on an aisle. We were behind two men in pink shirts and, in front of them, their wives. As the show started the usher came and asked to see our tickets and it turned out he had seated us wrong the first time--we were actually a row up, so the husbands had to move. They had general admission tickets anyway and were just hoping to snag empty seats, but when we got moved, they were ejected back to the standing-room-only bar area. A few minutes later, they showed up and took a couple of seats in the front row of the balcony, right across the aisle from their spouses, smiling and waving. It felt very much like a Mentos commercial.

But I digress...

You have to give him credit for audience participation. In addition to the usual callbacks on Army and Song for the Dumped, he taught us backing parts to Bastard and promised us a cookie if we got it right. He added a fourth part to the "ahhhh's" on Not the Same and then led us all in some vocal chicanery at the end. But I think Ahmed won the night in this category.

Ben's one cover was Such Great Heights by The Postal Service, but he forgot the lyrics halfway through the first verse and asked us if any of us knew them. He pulled a kid named Ahmed up onto stage to sing lead. Ahmed (we learned his name later) gave it a noble attempt, swapped some lyrics around ("everything looks perfect from up on stage") and he and Ben even managed some decent harmonies by the end of the song.

So, congrats, Ben. You've ruined this poor kid for all other musicians.

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