LIVE: Ben Folds @ Troy Music Hall, 10/17/2021
This Sunday, well into the dark of an early Autumn evening, the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall hummed with anticipation as a packed house awaits the evening’s performance. A gorgeous black grand piano sits center stage adorned with a few simple microphones and an iPad connecting the Music Hall to a worldwide audience enjoying the evening’s performance from the comfort of their own homes. After a parking scramble, we had but a few moments to take in the beauty of the hall before Ben Folds walks on stage with a humble smirk and wave. Not much for fanfare, Mr. Folds sits down and begins to take us on a captivating journey through his music and life perspective.
Opening the show with “So There” set the tone for the evening, incorporating just about everything one could hope for from a Ben Folds show into a single song; a rawkus, high energy classically trained piano player with a penchant for pop hooks and lyrical sass. With great delicacy and roaring thunder, he brought the hall alive to the concept of what a solo piano rocker could be. Equal parts pop and classical. Equal parts introspection and musings on the world at large. I admit I was expecting perhaps a timid vibe for my first time seeing Mr. Folds without a band, but the combination of his ability to manipulate the instrument and the Music Hall’s stellar new sound system really brought to life the low-end of the grand piano. Simple things contributed to our captivation like kicking his foot loudly in rhythm on the sustain pedal or tapping out a quick rhythm on his vocal mic before leaping back into a song.
The crowd also plays an integral role at a Ben Folds solo show. Diving right into his second song “Annie Waits” without saying a word to the audience, the instincts kicked in of a room full of people who love Ben’s music. The album version of this song has a prominently featured clap that I swear has never sounded cooler than when it’s done live by hundreds of people all in on the joke. The way his smile lit up behind the piano, we could tell he was in on it too and very much pleased. Finishing the song, he casually leaned his arm on the piano and turned to address the audience, thanking the capacity crowd for complying with COVID restrictions and welcoming in a live streaming audience from around the world. He’d reference these “floating bubbles” on his iPad throughout the night, and often after a particularly awesome crowd participation moment he’d pick the iPad up and exclaim “Do you hear that floating bubbles?!”
Encouraged by the crowd’s willing participation, Folds orchestrated the crowd to hum a three-part harmony during ta moving rendition of “Not The Same” off of 2001’s Rockin’ The Suburbs album. Songs like “Effington” and crowd-favorite “You Don’t Know Me” inspired more back and forth with the crowd, filling in horn lines and vocal harmonies with several hundred gleeful voices. During a quiet moment before he launched into the Ben Folds Five hit “Brick,” Mr. Folds relayed a story of the time he saw Radiohead at Irving Plaza in New York. Radiohead had just played a blistering headline set and Thom Yorke came back out for an encore with only an acoustic guitar, saying “We didn’t play this song when it was a hit but I guess I’ll play it now ‘cause I don’t have a problem with it.” Ben proceeded to say “Well, we didn’t play this song when it was a hit either, but I guess I’ll play it now ‘cause I don’t have a problem with it,” and launched into the somber opening chords of “Brick” to great applause.
After a 90 minute journey through his classical compositions to his pop songs and everywhere between – he took a moment to outline the game plan for the rest of the evening. “So here it is- next I’ll play a slow song, then a rock block, then I’ll leave the stage and come back for a ‘surprise’ encore. People appreciate transparency, especially these days. So that’s what the rest of the night will look like.” A delicate waltz served as the slow song followed by raucous renditions of “Kate,” “Zak and Sara,” “There’s Always Someone Cooler Than You,” and the Ben Folds Five classic “Thinking About the Army” to close the show.
True to his word, Ben took his leave from the stage and came right back to continued (& quite loud) applause. Sitting down at the piano again, he began to plunk around on the keys and hum a vague melody. Within seconds he was playing a fully improvised song, writing chord and melody on the spot whilst improvising lyrics like “I’m rockin’ this bitch in Troy” and “I’m thinking about shitting the bed, honestly what’s on my mind a bit right now is death.” The song (which I’ll lovingly refer to as “Rockin This Bitch In Troy”) gave a further glimpse into the man’s genius and ability to create spontaneously. We laughed together and upon finishing the tune he smiled big and began the evening’s final song, a love song filled with gratitude & joy called “The Luckiest.” When Mr Folds sings the words “I am the luckiest,” we truly feel the depth of what he means. To craft a lifetime of creating music & bringing it to the world, to continually be making opportunities for folks to commune together, to create together, to live the joy of life together. I agree, Ben.