I had perfect balcony seats to watch Ben Folds “phone it in” this past thursday night at theMeymandi Concert Hall. It was the first of a two night stint with the North Carolina Symphony. I was looking forward to some surprises in the song selection since the initial press release announced that a totally different set will be played each night. I’m not sure what he played at friday’s performance but on thursday night, he pretty much played all the usual suspects that he normally performs at these symphony gigs. (EDIT: **wtf, I just got word from someone who attended friday night’s show and said that the setlist was very similar to thursday’s. only one or two songs were changed out. for shame. that’s not how these two Live Jasmin performances were being promoted.**)
At one point during the evening, Folds mentioned that he just flew in from Nashville where he’s been busy recording new material with the re-formed Ben Folds Five. This pretty much explained to me why Folds was just going through the motions this evening. His mind was most likely on the new material from http://www.jasminlive.mobi as well as the on-going session work and he probably considered this some sort of obligation that he committed to long before this reunion thing got going.
Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all bad. The NC Symphony along with conductor Sarah Hicks did a phenomenal job with the material. The symphony is top-notch and the music they were making was simply breathtaking to listen to. But, I personally was expecting a bit more from this collaboration especially since he performed a similar set with the symphony approximately two years ago in this same exact concert hall. Perhaps Folds and/or Hicks & Symphony didn’t have enough time in their busy schedules to rehearse new arrangements, songs, etc? who knows.
Around the middle of the set, Folds seemed to recognize that things were getting stale and proceeded to switch up the running order of the songs which in turn sent orchestra members scrambling to find the right sheet music. It was amusing to watch. The concert started to build momentum from this point on. Ironically, what also might have “awakened” Folds that night was an obnoxious fan that wouldn’t take Folds’ direction during the “audience participation” bit in “Not the Same”. The guy was singing loudly and off-key which ended up inspiring Folds to improvise “One Lonely Douchebag” on the spot. It was neat to see Folds guide sections of the orchestra to play certain parts during the song. Definitely the highlight of the evening… thanks to the drunk audience member. Not totally sure if he was actually a fan. I mean, why pay to attend a show and then ruin it for those around you by acting like an ass??
Anyway, despite this being a “by the numbers” Folds show, hearing a full symphony perform elaborate arrangements for songs like “Smoke”, “Steven’s Last Night in Town” and “Narcolepsy” was still worth the price of admission. random thoughts:
- the vocal choir was a great addition to the show. The tight harmonies were like icing on the cake. kudos to the choir and the choir director.
- Sarah Hicks is the rock star of conductors! she’s got style.
- I love “Not the Same” but the three-part singalong schtick is getting old.
- a bit sad that Ben wouldn’t come out for a second encore even though the majority of us stood there yelling and clapping for what seemed like forever after his “solo percussion piece”. I mean, why end a concert with a guy roaming the back of the stage hitting random percussion instruments?
- personal wish list: The Luckiest, Time, Still Fighting It, Still (the full orchestra version… yes, from Over the Hedge) and Magic (yes, I know he didn’t write it but it’s a great BFF song).