Concert Review with PHOTOS: Ben Folds

  Photos by Chris Zwaggdyk

Photos by Chris Zwaggdyk

By James Doy

Artist: Ben Folds

Date / Venue: Monday 19th February, 2018 - The Powerstation, Auckland

We arrived at the Powerstation to see a grand piano prominently placed in the middle of the stage – not something you’d usually expect from this venue, but a crucial part of the evening to come.  Support artist Lucy Rose soon took the stage, (lucyrosemusic.com), and worked hard on gaining the attention of the growing crowd.  She has a beautiful voice, and was a good choice of opening act, easing us into the phenomenon that was to follow.

The Powerstation is an intimate venue, and it wasn’t quite at capacity this night.  This wasn’t a crowd of casual fans though – the line at the merchandise desk was several times longer than the queue at the bar for a start!

Ben Folds opened with “Phone in a Pool”– a song based on a surreal event, when he checked his phone after a gig to hear several increasingly frustrated messages asking why he wasn’t answering.  He threw his phone in the deep end of the pool in disgust, only to have it rescued by the singer Kesha who happened to be walking past – she urged him to put it in a bag of rice!

As the set progressed through “Annie Waits” and “All You Can Eat” it became apparent to all (including Ben Folds) that this was not a standard audience.  The amount of sound that he can create with just the piano and his voice is tremendous, but it was being augmented by a crowd who knew every note, filling in not just the backing vocals, but extra harmonies, and even instrumental lines.

Speaking of the piano – Ben Folds is a virtuoso.  There isn’t really anyone to compare him to in his generation.  The two giants of the piano pop world, Billy Joel and Elton John both rate his skills as superior to their own.  Tim Minchin is an excellent pianist but not in the same league.  The only recording artist (as opposed to session musician) I can think of who can compete is Harry Connick Jr – and their styles aren’t as far apart as you might think.  Ben Folds is a far flashier (and heavier) player though, and his ten fingered (or occasionally two fisted) pyrotechnics are a treat to behold.  He transitions effortlessly between lyrical playing and rock’n’rollpounding – the piano acting as both harmonic and percussive instrument at the same time.

As the set went on, Ben talked more and more between songs, filling in details on the composition of songs such as “Not A Fan” and “All You Can Eat”.  Before “Bastard” he took a very short time to teach 4 different counterpoints – letting the audience decide which one to take.  Then Lucy Rose returned to the stage to sing a beautiful duet on “Still Fighting It”.

“Steven’s Last Night In Town” segued straight into a drum solo – starting on a tom-tom held by a willing stage hand, moving across the stage as the rest of the drum kit was assembled around him.  Such a fantastic effect, and a great way to lead into the intermission – and time for the crowd to prepare for the second half.  To the sounds of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, we all diligently wrote down our requests and folded them into paper airplanes, ready to throw on cue.  No-one was to prematurely launch their planes – “not that there’s any shame in that”!  After the deluge of planes, he unfolded one plane at a time, placed it carefully on the piano, and performed the request, occasionally making use of a large book of lyrics if it was a deep cut!

This set showed off just how wide his range is, from “The Luckiest”, a beautiful ballad often used at weddings, and “Gracie”, an ode to his daughter through to “Army” and “My Philosophy”, from his days with the trio “Ben Folds Five”.  A couple of lesser known requests from his EP Super D, “Rent A Cop” and “Adelaide” went down well, but the highlight for me was his response to a blank paper plane. This prompted a fabulous improvisation on the merits of a blank piece of paper, and his experiences in New Zealand so far, building into a version of “Rockin’ This Bitch” which highlighted his difficulties in understanding how we pronounce his name here (“Bin”).

Throughout the night, some very vocal fans had been calling for “Rockin The Suburbs”, which brought a plea from Ben to “respect the format”.  Despite their planes not having made it to the list, he succumbed, and brought it out for the encore.  He didn’t miss the opportunity to acknowledge that while the song was written to poke fun at the white middle class angst of bands like Korn and Rage Against The Machine, it has taken on a new relevance in the current political climate of the USA.

Setlist

1. Phone in a Pool

2. Annie Waits

3. All You Can Eat

4. Bastard

5. Still Fighting It (with Lucy Rose)

6. So There

7. Landed

8. Not a Fan

9. You Don’t Know Me

10. Steven’s Last Night In Town (Ben Folds Five), ending with Drum Solo!

Paper Plane  Requests

1. Don’t Change Your Plans

2. Effington

3. Army

4. Errant Dog

5. Gracie

6. Rent a Cop

7. The Luckiest

8. Adelaide

9. Zak and Sara

10. “Blank Page” – improvisation

11. Philosophy

Encore - Rockin’ The Suburbs

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