Years back I signed up as part of a Demand It! group from Eventful—in essence it was a sort of petition to bring Ben Folds to Birmingham. I’d long since unsubscribed from their email list, having forgotten why I was getting email from them in the first place, until a magical moment came when I got the notification: Ben Folds was, at long last, coming to Birmingham! I bought tickets for myself and my mom immediately, and didn’t hear any advertising for the show until months later.
Now, I’m an enormous Ben Folds fan, even going so far as to write a detailed blog post introducing my good friend and former Vox neighbor Steve to his music. Unfortunately, I’ve just never been able to make it to his concerns—either I don’t want to make the drive (because I am a hermit), or I don’t want to have to attend a festival just to see him (because I am a hermit), or I’m busy cleaning my shell (because I am a hermit). But this concert seemed like it was going to be worth the wait; not only was he playing a short 40 minute drive away, he was playing at the Alys Stephens Center, a beautiful concert hall and home of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.
August 20th rolled around, and it was better than I could have imagined. This was truly “An Evening with Ben Folds”–and just Ben Folds. No band, no opening act, just a piano and Ben, telling stories and playing songs (and laughing at himself when he goofed up). And because I’d found out about the concert so early, we had great seats!
He played a wide range of material, from some Ben Folds Five stuff (“One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces,” “Kate,” “Brick,” “Mess,” “Army”), to his earliest solo material (“Fighting It,” “Annie Waits,” “Zak and Sara,”), to his later solo works (“Hiro’s Song,” “All U Can Eat,” “Landed,” “Gracie”), as well as his more current stuff (“Brainwascht,” “Effington”) and one song off the Lonely Avenue collaboration album he was technically promoting (“Picture Window”).
The entire show was fantastic, but certain moments stick out. I’ve always wanted to experience his tendency to enlist the audience for backup vocals, and it was just as fun as I imagined with “You Don’t Know Me” and his encore/finale, “Not the Same.” And while it was technically a solo man-and-a-piano show, he didn’t shy away from showing off with some unorthodox methods of switching it up—he opened with “Hiro’s Song” singing a capella while using a shaker and the microphone as his percussion instruments, and in the middle of “Steven’s Last Night in Town” he broke into what turned into a drum solo as his stage hands gradually set up a full drum set solo around him, piece by piece, Ben never pausing his playing for a moment. (I was too awestruck to get a picture of that, unfortunately.)
My favorite moments of the show were when he’d stop to tell a story or explain some detail behind a song before playing it. He did this with “Steven’s Last Night in Town” (I had no idea the song was telling a true story of a real person he’d known), “All U Can Eat” (one of my favorite songs, apparently inspired by and adapted from a rant of his father’s while at a Denny’s), and “Brainwascht” (a somewhat tongue-in-cheek response to a former friend who wrote a rather hypocritical song—and a bad one at that—criticizing Ben Folds supposed lack of morality and integrity).
But my favorite story was the one he told before playing a minor key version of “Song for the Dumped,” one of Ben Folds Five’s most popular songs with lyrics by its drummer, Darren Jessee. Ben explained that there was one section in the middle of the song that he’d only been able to bring himself to play twice during Ben Folds Five. You can hear it all yourself here—I was brave enough to try taking a video, but not brave enough to position it in such a way as to get a good quality image, so apologies for the quality. (I would also like to note that is NOT me trying to sing along at around 1:43.):
I really and truly couldn’t have asked for a better concert experience. It was everything I’d always hoped for a Ben Folds experience. And it also turned out to be a great show to share with my mommy, who is a Ben Folds fan herself and had just as much of a blast as I did. :)