[Live Review] BEN FOLDS (Sydney)

Sydney Opera House
Tuesday February 6, 2018 :

Ben Folds is the only musician who can pull the crowds of adoring fans to attend multiple shows of his at the iconic Sydney Opera House, where he played numerous times (11 according to Folds himself) with and without accompanying orchestra. Every Ben Folds show is not just a concert, it is an experience you would get attending a theatre or an opera – same feelings and equally similar chills.

Taking my seat I encountered a very apologetic, quite familiar looking guy in the seat in front of me, who made sure he wasn’t blocking my view. Later on i realised it was Rove McManus, sitting by himself with two empty seats next to him, which got me thinking : “Something cool is going to happen”.

Folds has always been a fan of conducting and at every of his shows, you’d see him engaging with the audience, orchestrating a singalong, telling stories and resonating his pitch perfect voice through the rows of the concert halls. The collaborative structure of his shows opens up Fold’s musical capabilities to the fullest and it’s noticeable throughout his latest release So There (2015) – a collaborative album of chamber pop songs with yMusic Ensemble and Nashville Symphony. Tonight’s show was no different, but with a quite unique twist.

The first hour long set was songs curated by Folds himself, starting with ‘Phone In a Pool’ off the above mentioned album, mixing it us with ‘Annie Waits’ and ’Still Fighting’ off Rocking The Suburbs (2001). A southern rocker is a true storyteller : “I’ve gotta tell you this story, its the Bruce Springsteen art of storytelling where the story is always longer than the song. Its basically important bits that just rhyme…this is what happens when you get cornered by an adult, normally a pretty southern red neck type guy, some teeth still there…” continuing the story for a few minutes to humour the audience Folds jumped onto playing ‘Uncle Walter’ (1995) by the end of the song Folds stated that he knew an Australian performer who does a lot of storytelling and who goes by the name of Tim Minchin.

The four part harmonies of ‘Bastard’ (2005) were supplied by the audience making a full house show so much more intimate and conducted by Folds himself, of course. I think, by the looks of their faces – fans were quite surprised at how good they sounded. Spicing the show up with such songs as ‘Landed’ (2005), ‘Not A Fan’ (2015) and a Regina Spektor collaboration ‘You Don’t Know Me’ letting the audience partake in the chorus and harmonies, because its obviously easier than bringing Regina on tour for one song.

The 1997 Ben Folds Five hit ‘Steven’s Last Night in Town’ ended with a switch to a drum kit, quickly assembled by roadies and an impressive drum solo progressing into the emotive ‘One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces’ (1997) and who’d you guess brought Folds his microphone? No one other than Tim Minchin, who was randomly name dropped a few songs earlier. The ballad version of the song sounded incredibly theatrical and the pair hugged it out and bowed in the end.

After 20 minute intermission, the second half of the show was something quite unusual, “The paper aeroplane request tour” name suddenly made sense. Audience members were encouraged to write their song requests on a piece of paper folded into a paper plane and shoot it straight on stage to Folds. So by the stage hands command – everyone shot their planes to Folds until the floor was completely covered in paper aircrafts. Folds then wandered around the war zone of shot down paper planes to randomly select his set list for the next hour.

It was unbelievably fun participation. While shooting my two planes with requests, guess who took his seat in front of me…Tim Minchin did, what a cool coincidence. First song requested was a newer one ‘Capable of Anything’ (2015) giving an emotional spin to the lesser-known songs and my request of another Ben Folds Five hit ‘Underground’ (1995) followed with the whole concert hall singing back and clapping in tune.

Speaking about the oldest song he ever wrote (when he was 18), which was the next request ‘Emaline’ (2002), followed by first highly emotional song of the night ‘Late’ an Elliott Smith tribute off For Silverman (2005) which always been an essay of how therapeutic music can be in ones life.

‘Rock This Bitch’ (2002) was a somewhat improvisation like : “I didn’t know this song that i picked up off the floor. written by someone who’s a motherfucker somewhere….”. A beautifully resonating ‘The Luckiest’ which every Ben Fold’s fan’s dream wedding song – not even a joke. That particular song always makes me tear up, so I guess its kind of a perfect theme song to tying the knot. Three part harmony of ‘Not The Same’ (2001) was again performed by the audience and orchestrated by Folds. Picking up a few more aeroplanes and dropping them back on the floor he finally settled on one and said : “I didn’t learn much from other people and that’s too bad. I played with Sir Elton John in Adelaide and I had to learn this song I’m about to play and we were going to play it together at an Enmore Theatre show in Sydney and the show was cancelled. So I learned this song and now i play it anyway.” Performing his version of ‘Tiny Dancer’. Closing the show with ‘Army’ (1999) Folds completely owned the show, he controlled the audience and he made us all feel as a whole. Sydney Opera House is now Ben Folds house – where he can forever feel like he’s at home away from home.

Reviewer : Annette Geneva
Photographer : Ken Leanfore

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