Ben Folds is either adored as a genius or rebutted as smug and nerdy. Either way his mastery is indisputable, as are the claims of Ben Folds being this generation’s Elton John.
As his five-piece band open with Levi Johnston’s Blues from his latest album, a collaboration with author Nick Hornby, it’s a slight oddball that doesn’t initially connect. As a track it’s peppered with genius, cheekily pairing TJ Hooker inspired street cool to its parodying narrative, citing the Palins with lines such as “Your mother-in-laws’ a heartbeat away form the Presidency” and ultimately, the chorus explosion of “I’m a fucking red neck, I live to hang out with the boys/Play some hockey, do some fishing and kill some moose.” The chorus is huge and shows Ben’s ability to play around with his style, even if means the crowd don’t really click in until the second song.
Most of Lonely Avenue is played tonight and on stage sounds more Ben Folds than even his previous solo albums, as an album with all the lyrics provided by Hornby it shows Ben’s ability to consume anything with his style. As songs from all his albums are performed, solo versions of Picture Window, Cologne and Belinda get some of the biggest responses of the evening, his voice and ever rolling piano being as affecting as his full orchestrations.
Folds’ recent trajectory of collaborations suggest either a boredom with his own company or a yearning to reach out. Having aggregated an album of collegiate vocal groups performing his songs, produced Amanda Palmer, and now working with Hornby, regardless of his intention it’s refreshing to see so many projects rotating and collaborating. Tonight’s support act Kate Miller Heidke steps up to perform You Don’t Know Me and From Above, the latter on which she performs on the album. Her voice is powerful and operatic, matching the riffs in You Don’t Know Me, blasting them away in fairness. As Folds conducts the audience for the harmonies in Not The Same, his largest collaboration sends joyful tremors across the venue.
For an audience who’ve followed Folds throughout his solo career, tracks like Annie Waits and Still Fighting cause elation. Closing the set with Ben Folds Five‘s Kate and then encoring with Underground and Army it’s a performance that doesn’t set a foot wrong, from an artist who systematically matches storytelling with perfect orchestration and harmony. Impeccable.