Having been to four previous Folds concerts that were all life changing in their own unique way—I feared losing the legacy of Ben Folds Live in my mind. Understandably so. But, I fought through it and saw Folds at the Beacon Theater, conveniently located less than two blocks from my apartment.
I’m here to say folks, Folds still has it, big time! He’s the consummate pro at delivering an enjoyably unique performance every night, all the while seemingly having a blast while doing it.
I personally think Folds is at his best when armed with only a piano and beer driven, raucous audience. I feared with a five-piece band, all of the shenanigans and improv would be cut for a professional grade, adult rock show. Fortunately, the CATCHY chorus from the opening song throws that notion of boring maturity out the picture window, “I’m a fuckin’ redneck…I like to shoot the shit and do some chillin’ I guess…you fuck with me and I’ll kick your ass.” The song was catchy BEFORE I knew the quote was taken directly off Levi Johnston’s Facebook page or even who exactly Levi Johnston is.
The Breakdown: seven songs from his Lonely Avenue collaboration with author (High Fidelity, Songbook) Nick Hornby (a great album by the by), 6.5 (“Hiro’s Song” was a B-side) from his quintessential solo album Rockin the Suburbs, three Ben Folds Five classics (sorry folks, no “Brick”), two 10 minute improv jams (one revolved around “Free Bird”) and one Ke$ha cover—28 songs of totally joyous Ben Folds elation.
Folds is touring the Lonely Avenue album with an ironically numbered five-piece band (Ben Folds Five…was three). Between that and the majestic scene and landscape at the Beacon Theater, the sound was rich and full as a California Cabernet, though Folds’ charm is more reminiscent of a Carolina porch PBR. The ever upscale Beacon had Beck’s…good enough.
After the Devo prog-rock, poet with a fun name tribute, “Saskia Hamilton” and a rip-roaring version of “Bastard” that finds me always wondering how they’ll recreate that 10-part harmony in the bridge—Folds gave the theater THE moment of silence they craved. This allows the drunks and knee slapping comedians to shout their comments. Naturally, “Rock This Bitch” and “Free Bird” were the two prime choices for this mission.
Folds took it all in for a brief moment, made a funny face, and warned “be careful what you wish for young lady” before launching into a 10-minute version of “Free Bird.” This particular version Ben chose to improv the lyrics about how he took an oath as an artist to play the song when requested, but he didn’t know the words. It then blended itself into a “kill two birds with one stone” version of “Rock This Bitch (the Free Bird version).” Epic.
Fans like me that enjoy just Ben and a piano, were treated to a short four-song solo set. The set ended with “The Last Polka” which when played solo sounds like a show-tune and college fight song played pureed in Bose blender. It’s astounding. Half way through the song, Folds stopped and admitted guiltily that he had a “brain freeze” before picking up where he left off.
Folds looked sort of embarrassed while calling his band back onto the stage. He proceeded to launch into an improv jam around “sorry I forgot the words…” which featured five minutes of piano jam, five minutes of cranking on the toy looking synthesizer next to his piano that sounds a lot like “Sandstorm” on crack, and finally he took over the drum set for another jam pointing his stick at other members of the band to jam with. When they looked semi lost and confused, he goofed through a poor, yet charming, version of “Hiro’s Song” playing drums, singing and laughing. The band and the audience alike were in shock and awe.
It’s as if he said to paying guests of the Beacon “I messed up folks, here’s a gift that will never ever be created again.” Sitting behind Jason Sudekis, it’s impossible not to make the Dana Carvey “Choppin’ Broccoli” train of thought connection to the way Folds makes up songs. Although, I don’t think Carvey would dare attempt the outro to “You to Thank.” (Concert goers note: always see Ben Folds left center so you can watch his ridiculous piano playing)
Acknowledging the loosely unscripted madness Folds stated “…and now for some songs that were rehearsed”, before bringing the crowd to its feet with seven hits that found even elder white women of the Upper West Side “in a loving trance”, making it possible for all Beacon residents to dance.
And they did.
You can’t leave a Ben Folds show anything but giddy. He delivers a little bit of everything. The five piece version of his songs was as rockin’ as I’ve ever seen. The improv was as astoundingly witty. You get a taste of Ben Folds Live. This is as good of a show as you’ll ever see. What more could one want from an artist?
He can fight it all he wants, but he’s still got it.
Levi Johnston’s Blues
Sleazy (Ke$ha cover)
You to Thank
Free Bird (“I don’t know the words to this song improv”)
Rock This Bitch (Free Bird Version)
Still Fighting It
The Last Polka
Sorry I Forgot the Words to Last Polka Jam
Hiro’s Song (Ben on drums and vocals)
Zak and Sara
You Don’t Know Me
Rockin’ the Suburbs (You Better Look Out, Because I’m Going to Say Fuck Outro)
Not the Same