Ben Folds @ Koohaus (Photos and Review)
22-Feb-2009 10:30 am
Contributed by: pete
Not too long before Ben Folds released his latest album, Way To Normal, he and his band recorded a bunch of ad-hoc songs and leaked them onto the internet, in effect creating a fake version of Way To Normal. When the album was released and I wanted to hear a few songs before purchasing, I downloaded a couple and gave them a listen. Sitting there listening to them, I remember thinking to myself "Wow, Ben sounds like he's really phoning it in this time around." Later, when I found out about the fake leaked songs, I went and listened to a few 30s clips on iTunes... at which point I bought the real Way To Normal.
The real album contained music that was much closer to what I expected. I actually deleted the fake songs from my hard drive, an action that I now mildly regret since it turns out some of those fake songs made it into the Toronto set list. In fact, we were subjected to three fake songs: Way To Normal, Lovesick Diagnostician (a.k.a. Fake Dr. Yang), and an improvisation called Fake Army that Folds made up on-the-spot in reaction to someone screaming "Play Army!" while he was telling the story of the fake album. When he played Fake Dr. Yang it was played back-to-back with the real Dr. Yang creating an interesting juxtaposition.
When you go to see Ben Folds perform, you're really there to see the performer in him. Sure, we all want to hear whatever brilliant songs of his that we've become most attached to, but it is best to just accept and absorb whatever he decides to dish out. He does some incredible things with his piano, sometimes reaching in to play the strings directly. For one song he placed Altoids boxes on the strings to create an analog synthesizer effect. No matter what song he is playing, it's always amazing to watch his acrobatic fingers on the piano; he makes it looks incredibly easy, but listening to the compositions proves otherwise. He clearly views the set list as only a rough guideline for the night, which means that the concert is filled with many spontaneous moments and lots of humour. Even the opening song strayed from the printed set list; he opened with a variation of Bitch Went Nuts, but the set list showed Effington (which he went on to play next).
It was clear we were getting closer to the end of the concert when he wrapped up the more casual middle part of the show and started into a string of concert favourites, including Army, to which Folds always gets the audience to sing along in two parts. This time around, though, the audience sang the two separate parts reasonably well divided and with good pitch without any guidance or provocation from Folds. He brought the set to a peak with a tried and true move that we also saw at the show in April 2007: At the end of Not The Same, he conducted the audience through some singing parts in a style similar to Bugs Bunny in Long-Haired Hare that received an extremely high level of audience participation. That show two years ago made it into my Top 10 Concerts of 2007, and although this show had all the same components, there was something that prevented me from reaching the same level of elation that I hit back then. Even so, his music has had such a huge impact on me over the past 10 years that it was good just to be able to watch him play the material in person again.
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Media: Army (Live in Berlin 2005) (mp3), Effington (mp3)