Saturday, November 08, 2003

Concert Review- Ben Folds with Ben Lee

Now, of course the quality of a show depends a lot on the audience, so in all fairness I should say that this was a Ben Folds crowd. We knew the lyrics to all his songs, and shouted out the “ba-ba-baa” part to Kate without prompting. But the audience-performer relationship goes both ways, and it was clear to me that Ben Folds understood what Ben Lee did not: that this was not like most college shows, that the students were somewhat self-conscious, and that any sort of intellectual allusion would go over big.

Ben Lee was more or less forgettable. Australian, very mainstream sound, the poor man’s John Mayer really. His scripted transitions between songs fell completely flat, he couldn’t get us to stand up or scream. The guy has some good guitar skills and a smooth nasal voice- a little too smooth to convey a lot of emotion. And although I’d never heard his songs before, when he finished half a line of lyrics I had a pretty good idea how that line was going to end. Now, I know this sounds like I didn’t enjoy his performance at all, which isn’t the case; it was a good enough hour. But I’m not going to buy his CDs.

The only ones I can remember, in approximate order of performance:
Dirty Mind
Nothing Much Happens
Pop Queen
Something Borrowed, Something Blue
Ship My Body Home

Ben Folds hit the best songs from his old albums (not necessarily the most played ones) and gave us just a taste of his new stuff. There was never a dull moment, as he improvised piano detours and told us the stories behind a few of the more enigmatic songs. At one point, someone on the upper balcony shouted out “Ben Folds rocks Saddam Hussein’s Ass!”, whereupon he composed a song around that phrase (eventually ending with “I don’t know where this crap is going...”).

Again, in approximate order of performance:
Fred Jones Pt. 2: About as good an opening as any, as he just shrugged off the standing ovation.
Zak and Sara
Best Imitation of Myself
All U Can Eat: This was a song off Ben Folds’ new “Sunny 16” and was a little preachy, but overall good listening about our screwed-up consumer culture.
Kate: There was a girl named Kate in the audience whose birthday was today. He remembered that after the song, and sang her a special version in minor key with disturbing lyrics about getting older and dying. It was a funny touch.
Bruised: He brought Ben Lee back out to do this song from this summer’s “The Bens”. Ben Lee sounded a good deal better on this than on his solo stuff, partially because his guitar had Ben Folds’ piano to deepen the sound, and partially because the lyrics were less predictable.
I Touch Myself: Hilarious cover song, another duet with Ben Lee.
Learn to Live with What You Are: Also off “Sunny 16”; not bad.
Selfless, Cold and Composed: I didn’t realize before how good this song is. It's going on my playlist now.
Army: Ben made up for lack of other instruments by using the audience here. Half were trumpets, half saxophones. I didn’t realize U of C students had all this enthusiasm, but we really got into our instruments.
The Luckiest
Rockin’ the Suburbs: Ben- “I wanted to call this song ‘Korn Sucks’, but I decided not to.”
Not the Same: The original finale; Ben split us into the three parts of the major chord, used us during the song, then directed the giant choir for a few final rounds.
One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces: Encore 1, prefaced with the great story of the senior-year prank that inspired his ISAP rap, which eventually turned into this song.
Song for the Dumped: Encore 2, and a great climax to the show, including massive audience participation on the most memorable line, as well as his repetition of a verse in Japanese. Remember what I said about intellectual allusions?

So all in all, this concert was a great Saturday night, and worth multiple times what I had to pay for it (much of the cost was shouldered by the U of C Major Activities Board). And that’s more than enough blogging.

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