After seeing Ben Folds at the Beacon Theater in New York City last night, as I say after most of his concerts, I remember why I enjoy his music so much. To be perfectly honest, I was kinda dreading this concert, primarily because the “Lonely Avenue” album has not been one of my favorites, and that was the basis for the tour. As you will see, Mr. Folds really mixed in a whole lot of other stuff, and I think this may have been my favorite concert based purely on the content of the songs provided, though I did have some issues with the overall feel of the concert.
As usual, Folds picked a great opening band in Lady Danville, a trio of musicians from California. Their drummer had an interesting take on how to play the drums, but it was a good performance overall. Ben Folds has the ability of grabbing groups that I personally have never heard of, putting them on stage before him, and making me appreciate their music. This probably started with Gavin DeGraw back at UConn, continued with Julia Nunes at Western Connecticut, Missy Higgins in Boston, right through Jukebox the Ghost in New Haven and ending with Family of the Year with Boston Pops. Lady Danville was no exception and I look forward to hearing much more from them in the future.
Once Ben Folds took the stage, however, things really got rolling. I was attempting to tweet live from the concert (@GuruEbby) but was having some difficulty with my phone so I aborted after the first song. Fortunately for me, I was able to locate the set list, so I will use that as a guide to measure my impressions of the entire concert. Before I begin, I must reiterate that I was expecting a lot of “Lonely Avenue,” especially after the first two songs, and three of the first four, were from that album. Needless to say, I was quite surprised in the end.
First, I must discuss the band that played with Ben Folds. I found it kind of ironic that Ben Folds performed with four other musicians for much of the night, truly creating “Ben Folds Five.” Sam Smith was back on drums, and “Tambo Man” was present playing more than just the tambourine, but he had a new bassist and back-up keyboardist/French horn player. However, these new performers did not degrade the performance of any song played, even some of the older songs from the original “Ben Folds Five” days.
Folds started out with “Levi Johnston’s Blues” from the aforementioned “new” album “Lonely Avenue.” An interesting opener for sure, but one of my favorite songs from that album. If you are unfamiliar with the premise of the album, Nick Hornby, the great author, wrote the lyrics for the songs, while Ben Folds composed the musical arrangements for the songs. This song in particular is based on Levi Johnston, Bristol Palin’s baby daddy, and some of the comments that were posted on his Facebook page, since removed, when his future mother-in-law was the Republican Vice Presidential-nominee in 2008. A tongue-in-cheek examination of “instant” celebrity thrust upon the unexpecting.
The second song of the night was another track from “Lonely Avenue” called “Doc Pomus.” In my opinion, this is one of the stronger songs from that album, and I have a new found appreciation for the song after seeing it live for the first time. Folds then kicked it a bit old school by playing “Gone” from the album “Rockin’ the Suburbs.” If you have read any of my other posts about Ben Folds, particularly mentions of this song, I have always felt that certain songs reflect almost exactly some things that have happened in my life. This song is no exception. It pretty much sums up how I felt leading up to the end of my marriage and how that all went down. It’s almost like he was predicting the downfall of my relationship before it actually happened.
“Belinda” was the next song of the night, one of the best songs from “Lonely Avenue.” It is a song about an aging rock star that only has one song, and the regrets that he feels about the subject of that song. Best line is probably “what is he without her? A one-hit wonder with no hits is what he is.” Great writing by Hornby.
Next, Ben Folds announced that he wanted to have a cover song for the tour, so he said that all he did was go on iTunes at the time and decide to cover the number one single at the time. That song happened to be “Sleazy” by Ke$ha. Seeing how as I am out of touch with popular music these days, I had never heard this song before. It was pretty good, but not on par with his ghetto fabulous cover of “Bitches Ain’t Shit.”
Another song about failed relationships, “You to Thank” was the next song. The lyrics discuss a shotgun wedding and the resulting breakup of said wedding. “Cologne” from the album “Way to Normal” was next, and I have always felt that this is an odd song to play live. The lyrics are very well written, but the tempo is a bit slower than most stuff played at a concert. However, some of the other songs that he played tonight were similar in tempo, so it wasn’t totally out of place. Just once, I would like to see this song performed live like it is in the music video.
Probably my second favorite song from “Lonely Avenue” is “Saskia Hamilton,” primarily because of the sound, but partially because I like songs about stalking people. He didn’t happen to play my favorite song from the album, which is “Password,” but I digress. “Bastard” was also an interesting choice for songs at the concert, but it is one of the better songs off of “Songs for Silverman.” It has some great harmonization and the band really helped Folds with the song.
Thanks to a pause after the previous song, what usually happens at a Ben Folds concert occurred? Some guys screaming out “Rock This Bitch,” which I don’t think Ben has done at a concert for quite some time, at least one that I have been at, or the nearly required request at a “rock” concert, “Free Bird.” However, Ben Folds claims to not know the lyrics to the song, so he made it up as he went along. He even threw in a verse of “Rock This Bitch.”
The next song is another one from “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” and is another slower song, but does have some of the stronger piano playing from Ben Folds. “Still Fighting It” is a song that Folds wrote for his son after his son was born. It is a good song, but a departure from the normal songs you would expect at a concert.
“From Above” was the first single released from the album “Lonely Avenue.” It is yet another song about unrequited love, in this case two people that should be dating but end up dating other people. Chorus:
“It’s so easy from above
You can really see it all
People who belong together
Lost and sad and small
But there’s nothing to be done for them
It doesn’t work that way
Sure we all have soul mates but we walk past them every day, oh no”
The last song that Ben Folds played with the band prior to his “solo” intermission was “Effington,” also from “Way to Normal.” It would be nice to see this song performed a capella like the version from “Ben Folds Presents: University A Capella,” but it is still a great song with the band and everything.
The next four songs, Folds performed by himself on the piano. This is something that he seems to do a lot, at least at the concerts that I have seen him recently. The first “solo” song was another one from “Lonely Avenue.” “Picture Window” is about checking into a hospital or something. A decent song, but not one of my favorites from the album. Next, he played “Practical Amanda,” which I like a little bit more. It would also be the last song that he played from “Lonely Avenue” for night.
One of my favorite all-time songs by Ben Folds Five is “Lullabye,” which was the next song that Folds played at the concert. Seeing the song live (again?) only reminded me why I like it so much. Finally, the last song he played solo was one of his oldest songs, which is why he is forgiven for forgetting some of the lyrics. “The Last Polka” from “Ben Folds Five,” the very first BFF album was played, and then the band returned to the stage to resume the concert. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, it devolved into a 10 minute freestyle jam, which ended with Ben Folds jamming on the drums and playing an abbreviated version of “Hiro’s Song.” First time that I have ever heard that song at any of the concerts that I have been to, so it was kind of fun.
“Landed,” another song from “Songs for Silverman,” and another song about relationships. I sense a theme. “Annie Waits,” my favorite Track 1 from Ben Folds, was next. It would have totally been awesome had he followed it up with “Zak and Sara,” but he put song before it, and not really one of my favorites. In fact, probably my least favorite song from “Way to Normal,” “Hiroshima (B-B-B-Benny Hit His Head).” But it is still a pretty good song live.
“Zak and Sara” was next, and this is one of my favorite songs. It is, in fact, may favorite of the Track 2s from Ben Folds, and a song that everybody always seems to know. This was followed by the first single from “Way to Normal,” though without Regina Spektor. “You Don’t Know Me” is another song that everyone seems to know, so a lot of people were singing along and finally getting into the concert. Next was one of my all-time favorite BFF songs, “Kate,” which has some of the best lyrics, and like “Saskia Hamilton,” is slightly stalkerish.
The last song played prior to the encore was “Rockin’ the Suburbs.” My guest at the concert thought that it was ironic that a crowd of probably 98% Caucasian folks were singing “Y’all don’t know what it’s like, being male, middle class, and white” a few blocks from Harlem. I suppose that could be kind of humorous in a way. At this point, he hadn’t played “Army,” which is usually a concert staple, so I was expecting it for the encore. However, they seemed to be running out of time and didn’t have much time. Apparently, they needed to be done by 11 pm for some reason.
So after a brief break, the band returned to the stage, and with Ben Folds wanting to hear some “three part harmony,” the only encore song was “Not the Same.” This song always seems to get played, if only so Ben Folds can play choir director, which is always fun. It was a bit disappointing that some of the usual songs weren’t played, but it was probably the most extensive Ben Folds concert that I have ever attended, with songs from the Ben Folds Five days through to his current album and even another current popular song in cover format. Another great show by a great performer. Hopefully it won’t be too long until I am able to go to another of his concert.
Note: I got my set list here.