Ben Folds Live in Mobile, Alabama

Quote of the Day:     All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard no horse sing a song.”     –Louis Armstrong

TB ain’t no music critic. But if I was, I’d write all about how good the Ben Folds concert was this past Monday at the Saenger Theater in downtown Mobile. I’d give you his set list, tell all about the instrumentalists, point out the errors and bust out some cutting edge jargon.

Instead, I’ll just tell you I thought he was damn good, better than I expected, which was that he’d be really good. A lot of the folks who inhabit this blog are unfamiliar with him, same as I would be if I wasn’t wed to someone with discerning and eclectic tastes. So I write this with y’all in mind.

Ben Folds leads the band and plays the piano. Alongside are a drummer and a bass guitarist and a couple of utility players who do everything from shaking tamberines to playing the French horn to percussion to keyboards to standing around looking pensive and dour and wry. The band once was known as the Ben Folds Five back when they were only three but apparently dropped “Five” from their name when they expanded to that number. This fact alone is enough to garner him/them respect from TB. All of the talking and most of the singing is done by Ben. He is sort of a combination of Elton John and Jerry Lee Lewis crossed with a mad scientist and that gangly nerdy kid who pitched for the original Bad News Bears if he’d grown up and become Dwight from The Office. Rock Star, in her infinite wisdom, has kindly observed that “he could use a stylist” though TB heartily disagrees, finding his slovenly dress and post-pubescent awkwardness an appealing juxtaposition against his obvious self confidence, talent and leadership skills.

As for the concert itself, I only knew a few of his songs beforehand, and at least one of those I knew he played at a different tempo and deployed a new set of lyrics so that it was really only a cousin of the good tune on my ipod. One of my favorites from his new album is “Hiroshima” which has great lines for crowds to sing along though he surprisingly and a bit disappointinly didn’t perform it in Mobile. In spite of this, I loved every number. The dude bangs on that piano like it slapped his moma, but the sounds he brings forth are pitch perfect. Watching his hands, one could only see a blur of flesh interspersed with ebony and ivory. Virtually all of his tunes are laced with humor, but also with truth and true emotion. The best example I can give is the song “The Bitch Went Nuts” which I’m linking below. It’s damn funny, but its not just a silly gag song because it captures a feeling and a conversation most of us have had at some time. It’s dark humor, the kind you share with your best pals. I’m not posting it, but I have a feeling more than a few of you ARB’s will dig the tune “Bitches Ain’t Shit”, just in case you want to catch it on YouTube. I should also note that he played “Brick” in Mobile, which as his diehard fans know, he rarely performs any more.

The other thing about Ben Folds is that he projects to the audience a genuine joy and excitement in his own performance. This was no stereotypical rock star juicing up to go through the motions at one more stop on the tour. He came on stage about fifteen minutes after his opening act finished and he played until five minutes after the local ordinances required him to cease and desist. He played a set list unique in several ways from his recent shows and he improvised both the order of songs and the choice. There was even a voice vote by the crowd to choose his last pre-encore song when time was running out. One of the highlights of the night for a new fan like myself was when he played a song unique to Mobile. If you’ve ever seen Dana Carvey do “Choppin Bro-co-li”, you have an idea of what transpired. It’s a tradition of his to do this in each city I guess, and he basically makes up a tune in honor of his current tour stop in place of the usual pandering hometown compliments. 

If I had to pick out anything to criticize about the concert I could, but they are small complaints. TB always likes to see a band leader introduce his guys and I always look for the lead to leave himself out of the introductions so as not to draw the applause away from the guys in the trenches. Just a little thing I’ve come to respect over the years and something left out of the show. Second, part of Folds’ schtick is that he cusses in his songs and his onstage dialogue with the audience. A lot. TB ain’t no monk, but as an aspiring humorist I am of the opinion that cuss words are most effective when used sparingly and timed appropriately. He overdoes it a bit. But then again, he kind of overdoes everything else too; all the things that make a concert fun–he bangs those keys, he sweats, he laughs, he runs, he kicks his stool out from under and he thinks about what he’s going to do next to get everybody smiling and dancing. Rock Star says he’s a musical genius and on this point, from what I’ve seen I’d have to agree.

For the uninitiated here at TB, except for maybe MD, you ought to check him out. Here’s a couple of videos to give you a little taste of his work.

Warning–these links are a departure from the usual, PG 13 rated content of this site. For you kids out there….earmuffs, now.

Here’s one more that demonstrates the “musical genius” part a little better. I can only link it, sorry.

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About travellinbaen

I'm a 40 year old lawyer living in Ridgeland, Mississippi. I'm several years and a couple hundred miles removed from most of my old running buddies so I started the blog to provide an outlet for many of the observations and ideas that used to be the subjects of our late night/happy hour/halftime conversations and arguments.
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5 Responses to Ben Folds Live in Mobile, Alabama

  1. Zeek says:

    Glad you enjoyed the concert TB, the guy sounds interesting, but,uh, where’s the Thursday pickin’ for the Masters??

  2. workinbaen says:

    coming as soon as I finish a little work project. Should be up by lunch.

  3. Adam G says:

    I stumbled upon this blog looking for some response to the Ben Folds Show in Mobile. I’m glad you enjoyed yourself at the show, and I hope that the show inspires you to do a little research about Ben Folds before you write some more blogs about him.
    The three main guys you saw on stage did not belong to Ben Folds Five. Ben Folds is the only one from the original Ben Folds Five members that still plays as Ben Folds. They are all new guys, and Ben picked them up after doing a brief tour and a few albums by himself. Maybe you should check out the album “Ben Folds Live” (a play on “Ben Folds Five”) which is a CD and DVD of just Ben Folds and his piano. (much of the stuff he did solo in Mobile is on that album).
    Another thing I found wrong in your blog is the fact that Ben didn’t introduce any of the members “in the trenches” as you put it. He surely did introduce every member on stage except for himself, not in one song, but throughout songs when they had solos. I, like you, like it when a front man introduces members of the band, but I also notice it when a he does it.
    Also, the song you have linked is not the song “The Bitch Went Nuts” that was released on the CD. It is one of the fake songs that were released before the “Way To Normal” was released as a prank on the people that leak songs before they are released. Google it.
    All in all, I’m glad you liked the concert and I hope you become a bigger Ben Folds fan and keep blogging about it.

    -Adam

  4. Zeek says:

    Sounds like you found yourself an editor, TB.

  5. Adam, my post was not intended to be a biography. I went to the concert. I enjoyed it. I wrote about my experience. I linked some stuff so people who were unfamiliar with him could get an idea of what I saw.

    The identity of the musicians in the Ben Folds Five, Ben Folds in Mobile, and any other incarnation of the band is really irrelevant to the humorous observation I was making. However, I can see why you would read it the way you did. I could probably fix the problem by changing up the pronouns, but I probably won’t.

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