Monday, November 17, 2008

ben folds @ the wiltern

Oh Mr. Folds...I just don't get it. How can you produce dreck like The Way to Normal, and still preform said dreck live in such a way that it makes me forget that I'm victoriously nodding my head along to what amounts as a laundry list of complaints against your ex-wife? Mr. Piano Man...I'm weak-willed, I really am.

Thus ends my lyrics-slut gripe against his new material. If we've learned anything from his current misstep it is this: Live Ben will always trump Studio Ben. That, and if you're going to leak a fake version of your album, its lyrics shouldn't be more effortlessly goofy than the open diary, forced levity of the "official" version1. (All I'm sayin' is if you're going to include the line But if you had to say it all with a pop song / Couldn't you at least have made me a good one? well...take your own advice.)

Before I come off as hopelessly dower, it's important to note that this review is, in fact, written by a Ben Folds fan. Few people have mastered the art of combining true musical mastery with pop sensibilities (or if you prefer, punk for sissies) than Ben. Live, preforming on a grand piano (out, out, wretched synthesizers), fingers flying, stool rarely, if ever, seeing his backside, it becomes abundantly clear: Ben Folds is a Musician. And, even more of a rare breed, a likable one at that. In between making the hard stuff look easy, Ben took time out to chat with the the audience, making being on stage with two-thousand people studying your every move look downright effortless. And educational. We learned that all you really need to get a job in film composing is a working knowledge of the "C" scale, and that a tin of Mentos, when placed face down on the strings of the piano, make an excellent source of percussive beats (for when scoring either nature documentaries or endorsement deals).

Theatrics aside, the real performance began during the second full set when, fake and official versions of the new material exhausted, the hits began. It's hard not to feel connected to Fold's cast of characters -- even when actively poking fun at himself as in "Rockin' the Suburbs," there's still an extreme element of (repetition drives home a point) likability. His cast of everymen and -women -- hey, that could be you. And, as anyone who proudly sang along in three-part harmony during the night's closer "Not the Same" can tell you, for a good concert, that's more than enough.

1. Although flashing the phrase "rhyming dictionary" during the first number, the fake "Road to Normal" was a nice touch, as was the frown-faced keytar players during the "Frown Song." Dang it...I'm falling for it again, aren't I?

mp3: "You Don't Know Me (live)" by Ben Folds
mp3: "Such Great Heights (Postal Service)" by Ben Folds
mp3: "The Way to Normal (fake album)" by Ben Folds

1 comment:

hugo said...

couldn't agree with you more; though the new album eventually grew on me over some time, i was still skeptical about the new live show. but it proved its worth in being folds' most innovative tour in, shit, i cant even remember how long. i imagine this kind of madness last happening during the 'messner' tour back in the day. all in all, i think all folds fans that night fell back into loving him again -- then again, that could also be because he hasnt played a headlining set here in so long, so i suppose any set is better than no set.

nice blog, btw --
hugo