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.