March 8, 2008
Better than: Whatever and Ever Amen on constant rotation
I missed Ben Folds last time he came to town with John Mayer. I figured I couldn't stomach the fans of pasty folk hipster Mayer any more than I could stomach his music. But I'm sorry I couldn't find the constitution then to do what I had done just now: Watch Ben Folds come out and just ravage through a set of piano rock that managed to turn a huge crowd of mostly unfamiliars into new fans.
That's sort of a tough task to begin with, but not one unfamiliar to the versatile singer-songwriter, Folds. Piano - even the slice-of-life piano ballads tempered with a dose of punk that Folds plays - doesn't usually equate raw energy, and getting throngs of fans more accustomed to traditional rock bands to buy into the sound takes confidence and conviction. But Folds has confidence to spare. He ran practically full tilt to his piano, leaned forward as if to lunge at it, and never let up -- and rarely sat down -- throughout his whole set.
I'll get this out of the way now: Yes, he still plays Ben Folds Five tunes, and he does them better than ever. He charged through an uptempo version of "One Angry Dwarf" with a sneer, chuckled a bit as he sang the chorus to the perfectly apropos "Kate" (about an sweet, hippie chick with a yen for Krishna and weed), and throttled back into a satisfying rumble for the balladic "Narcolepsy." There was no "Brick" or "Song for the Dumped," but that's OK. Folds is obviously willing to oblige long-time fans with a bit of nostalgia, but he's moved on from his days in BFF. He's got a new catalog of perfectly crafted pop rock tunes to hum along, feel pissed off, or get emotional to.
As far as the new material goes, "Landed" showed off Folds' chops as he navigated the meandering melody with ease, while "Rocking the Suburbs" and his totally-fucking-silly white-boy cover of "Bitches Ain't Shit" had the crowd singing along in glee. I don't know why, but I was still shocked to see the group of forty-somethings in front of my mouthing along with "Bitches." I guess the magic of Folds works two ways: In one regard his brand of brazen, punky piano rock manages to endear the instrument to young hipsters, while in the other he's managed to show the Elton John crowd that you can still say "fuck the man" in B flat. That's a pretty broad cross-section for any artist to maintain, but after seeing Folds man the stage for an hour, it's easy to see how he's managed it so brilliantly.
I only wish Langerado had given Folds a slightly longer set. Hopefully they get him back next year so he can earn a bit more of the fanship he rightly deserves.