Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Ben Folds brings out the Whites

photo by Phil Bardi; cross posted at Tampa Calling

Ben Folds, Ritz Theater, Ybor City, Tampa, April 3rd, 2009

Setlist (incomplete):

Errant Dog, Sentimental Guy, Brainwascht, ?, Hiroshama (B B B Benny Hit His Head), Bastard, Free Coffee, ?, Landed, Jesusland, Battle of Who Could Care Less, Effington, Losing Lisa, Lullabye, Kylie From Connecticut, Still Fighting It, You Don’t Know Me, Where’s Summer B.?, Rocking the Suburbs>Jam, Kate, improv song about roadie Michael Praidy (sp?), Brick, Not the Same, The Frown Song (fake version)

Encore: Fair, Army

If you had walked by the Ritz Theater in Ybor city last Friday night, you may have thought some tech convention was going on. Tucked-in shirts, leather belts and fresh haircuts are not your normal rock concert attire, but then again, Ben Folds isn’t your normal rock star. The clever songwriter has straddled geekdom and cool piano rocker for over a decade now; he’s still crafting catchy songs about deteriorating relationships and insecurities that anyone can relate to. The 42-year-old Folds, supported by a drummer and bassist along with an everything else instrumentalist – percussion, synth & sometime dancer – played over two dozen songs spanning his solo career and the three studio albums he released with the Ben Folds Five. Drawing heavily from last year’s successful, but under-the-radar, Way To Normal, Ben Folds opened with “Errant Dog” and played over half the of album throughout the two hour set. The band worked the crowd up with a run of tracks off Songs for Silverman: “Landed” and “Jesusland,” followed by the Whatever and Ever Amen’s anthemic “Battle of Who Could Care Less,” Normal’s “Effington” and Rockin’ the Suburbs’ “Losing Lisa” – they then brought it down with “Lullabye” from The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner and a new one, “Kylie From Connecticut.” The interplay with Ben and audience took off in the second half of the set. “You Don’t Know Me” – the newest album’s best song – features a duet with Folds and the cute-as-a-button pianist Regina Spektor. She wasn’t there, so the crowd took her lines without missing a beat. “Rocking the Suburbs” and Amen’s “Kate” only provided more ammo for the sing-a-long. Then Ben Folds played “Brick,” the adult contemporary hit from Amen. The crowd went nuts and if I never get surrounded by men singing ironic ballads again, it’ll bee too soon.

What you’ll never know from the studio albums is that Ben Folds is a true showman. Banging away on his grand piano pushed to the front of the stage - he has no qualms about crowd interaction and even goes so far as to incorporate the audience as instrument. Far and away the highlight of the evening came when Folds conducted the crowd as a choir in three part harmony for Suburbs’ “Not the Same.” In what has now become routine for his live shows, he worked one half of the room with his left hand in pulsing quarter notes while conducting the other half with accompanying melodies. Ben Folds closed the set by shaking hands with several people in the front rows all the while crooning the fake version of “The Frown Song.” The band returned for a two song encore, finishing with the fan favorite “Army.”

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