Sydney Opera House
Saturday November 15, 2014:
When you go to a gig and the musician plays only their older work, you feel nostalgic. When they play only new songs, you get annoyed. But when a musician combines both old and new, and also writes a brand new song with an orchestra in less than 10 minutes, you feel blown away.
Ben Folds played with ‘his band’ who just so happened to be the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, at the Sydney Opera House on Saturday 15 November. His performance opened with ‘Effington’ and Folds smiled as he heard the orchestra warm up and create a sound that filled the concert hall to the peaks of the building’s sails. But it wasn’t until the second half of the set that the audience got to see the real reason why Folds is so highly regarded. It’s because of his quick wit, creativity and talent. And it all started with a heckler.
“Rock this bitch,” was screamed from the audience and only a handful laughed, leading Folds to start the story of a gig in Chicago where the exact same thing happened in 2001. Folds has now made it a career mission that, whenever the sentence is uttered by someone in his crowd, he must write a new song. This is a mean feat on a normal day, but an even more impressive one when you include a full orchestra. Folds points to various sections of the orchestra, giving them instructions on notes to play by singing them or playing them on the keys. You can almost see the cogwheels in his mind turn as he shakes his head if something doesn’t sound quite right. But in less than 10 minutes, the audience hear a new song; this time about jetlag. While it’s not his finest performance lyrically, the melody is impressive and leads him to explain the origin of his song ‘Cologne’, which was written as a “Rock this bitch” performance.
Folds plays the piano with his whole body, leaning back on the seat during lighter sections and coming in close to the keys for his complex solos. He throws his head back and smiles often, showing the happiness of someone who is doing exactly what they were meant to do with their life. His childlike happiness with the music is evident in his hands, as he tucks one or the other behind his back when it’s not being used. But Folds isn’t childlike with the instrument he has dedicated years to mastering. He tapes his fingertips before a performance so he can beat the piano keys and when he’s not using his feet on the pedals, they’re moving up and down quickly to the beat of the song. He even stands and lifts the lid on the grand piano so he can play it both inside and out. Folds then turns to the crowd to say good morning.
“It’s not morning for normal people, but it’s morning for me. How about my band this morning?” says Folds.
This is just one of the many mentions Folds gives the orchestra and their conductor, Guy Noble throughout the evening. In fact, he makes a point of standing from his piano throughout the set to urge people to take a greater interest in the work of symphony orchestras, asking the crowd to return to the Opera House in the future to see their performances. The crowd wasn’t always told to stand though, doing it on their own accord as they were so impressed with the artist’s technique and ability to think creatively in seconds.
And while it’s easy to see the crowd think Ben Folds is a great guy, it’s even more incredible to see how popular he is with the orchestra. You can’t help but think that the orchestra wants to be Ben Folds’ best friend. They’re genuinely having a wonderful time, smiling and laughing at his between-song banter.
Deeper in the second half of the set, Folds delivers a humbling performance of ‘The Luckiest’. It was remarkable to watch the artist transition from an upbeat performer to one who seems to behave like he’s the only one in the room – so deeply absorbed in each note and lyric. He raises the mood again for his final song ‘One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces’ before an encore performance of ‘Narcolepsy’. The final song was the perfect choice, and with the help of opera singer Martin Buckingham, Folds delivered a departure that combined popular music, orchestra and opera and made the crowd rise again to ensure their return on his next tour.
Reviewer: Abbey Wright