What a show! Ben Folds in Lawrence’s Liberty Hall last night was an absolute delight. Worth every penny and more. Folds went virtually non-stop for over two hours playing 26 songs in his main set with three more in his encore. With a pleasing opening act, the evening ran over three hours.
Trying to describe a Ben Folds show is very difficult. How do you quantify the ceaseless energy the 43-year-old Folds brings to any stage? How do you explain the seemingly autobiographic (and a bit too graphic) lyrics that resonate somewhere in the hearts of every person in attendance? And, finally, how do you describe one of the most accomplished and fascinating pianists in the world?
Don’t miss a chance to see Ben Folds, ever. Laura and I have been fortunate to see Folds now three times in the past two years. All shows were great. Last night’s easily topped them all. Playing solo for all but one song shared with his opening act, Folds’ songs ranged from his unique ballads to classic kicking numbers that had the crowd pounding and bounding along in delight.
I have no idea what the half-life is for a baby grand piano, but I am sure it is halved again when Folds finishes a show. If the show was a cartoon, just imagine the piano’s legs splaying out, the piano crashing to the stage in a cloud of dust and the piano giving up a big, worn out WH-E-E-E-W!!!
Whether Folds was seated on a drummer’s stool playing classical interludes for his songs or standing hunched over the keys hammering away so powerfully you’d think his fingers would break or finally standing on that baby grand leading the audience in a harmonic ending to the main set, Folds proved to be as charismatic as ever. Having learned to play by ear, and influenced by the piano skills of Billy Joel and Elton John in his youth, Folds’ keyboard skills are what make the shows for us. I could never tire listening to Folds’ play the piano with such exuberance.
This show was as intimate as a Folds’ concert can get these days. Earlier, Folds had twittered asking about the best place to eat breakfast. My youngest daughter immediately tweeted back, along with many others, suggesting Milton’s. That is where he ate, later thanking all those for the suggestion. Folds recalled his early shows at the Bottleneck pushing his piano into the popular Lawrence club. He worked with the crowd often. When someone, comically, yelled out for “Freebird,” Folds immediately broke into his own personal version creating lyrics on the fly.
The opening act was Australian singer Katy Miller-Heidke and her husband guitarist, Keir Nuttall. The classically-trained singer turned alternative pop singer was a big hit with her hilarious take on an old love asking many years later to be a Facebook friend and Heidke’s blunt response. The duo joined Folds for one song. At the conclusion, Folds pulled out a camera (a sweet digital Leica, I think) and staged hilarious photos of the crowd’s positive and negative reaction to songs for the visiting Aussies.
Fans had formed an early line outside Liberty Hall. After only a short wait, we still were able to easily get some of the best seats in the balcony with plenty of legroom, in a concession to age. Once those standing in the aisle in front of us were moved, the sight lines were perfect. The only interruption was the big guy heading to the bar five times for two Pabst Blues Ribbons on each trip.
We are no experts on a Ben Folds song catalog. We also have lost any ability to pick out all the lyrics on newer or unfamiliar songs. Yet, there were plenty of classic hits and some new and very funny tunes we look forward to hearing again and again.
In these tighter economic times, we have to make some tougher decisions on our spending. Earlier this fall, after a fun evening at my 40th high school reunion, we decided to pass on some of the more expensive options offered for the rest of the weekend. I’m glad we decided to spend our funds on Ben Folds tickets instead.
The show made me feel 18 again. With apologies to my high school friends, none of you have the Ben Folds chops to make me feel that way again.
You can view Ben Folds’ Liberty Hall set list here.