Ben Folds rocks Geneva
Brandt Ranj, Staff Writer
November 17, 2011
Filed under Arts & Leisure
Veteran piano rocker Ben Folds performed a two-hour set last week at the Smith Opera House in Geneva, NY. Having seen him before, I anticipated that I’d have a relative grasp on how the concert would progress. I was wrong.
This time, only Ben and a piano graced the stage. The band he’d been touring with this past year was absent, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell. Folds is a judge on the NBC show “The Sing-Off” and two events of the night proved that his love of a cappella isn’t just an illusion for the screen.
The first was the inclusion of the YellowJackets, a Rochester-based a cappella group that’d been voted off the show recently. He played drums (which I’ve never seen him do) and provided a beat for the YellowJackets to strut their stuff. And strut they did, showcasing some real talent.
The second homage to a cappella was using the audience to fill the void left by the lack of proper bass, percussion and strings. If the crowd was particularly receptive during a song, he would point to signify that their help was needed.
You could tell by the goofy, full-toothed smile that he deeply appreciated both the full sound provided during the fast songs and the reverence during slower numbers. For the song “Not the Same,” he conducted the crowd in a three-part harmony which worked rather well.
Most enjoyable, however, was without the band, one could really see how proficient Ben Folds is as a pianist. Fitting popular songs into a “solo acoustic” setting enhanced them rather than hampered them. “Rockin’ the Suburbs” suddenly became a jazz-tinged number, while the songs “Brick” and “Still Fighting It” became downright anthems.
The set list varied from hits to relative obscurities highlighting his entire career (including both his solo work and his work with Ben Folds Five). The intimacy of only having a piano also provided the atmosphere for some back stories for certain songs.
Ben’s humor was in full force as usual. At one point, he began talking about Sara Bareilles’s new album, which he’s producing. After saying it’s the album he’s been most excited for ever, he asked if the entire audience could tweet her saying: “Yeah, your new stuff sounded great; Ben played all the demos over the PA.” He admitted it would be funny even though “it’ll probably make the next 12 hours or so of my life very interesting.”
At one point in the show, he walked over to three people holding up signs and signed them. He even used one as a prop during “Rockin’ the Suburbs” as it featured lyrics from the track. Another concertgoer held up a sign that said “I need to tell you something.” So he stopped the song he was playing and told the crowd “I’m sorry for the inconvenience, but somebody has a sign that says they need to tell me something. Now I’d like to hear it.” The concertgoer whispered her message to him and Ben nodded. These gestures prove that he is ever-vigilant and loves a good crowd.
That, in fact, is the takeaway from a Ben Folds concert. Besides the warm fuzzies, pounding head, and adrenaline rush, he loves his job and his followers. I’ve seen him rock Buffalo and I’ve seen him rock Geneva. I can’t wait to see where he’ll rock next.