Review: Singer Ben Folds plays new tunes at AU concert

12 years ago by in Uncategorized Tagged:

Photo courtesy of Epic Records.

By NIKKI SCHWAB

He’s the king of nerd rock.

With thick-rimmed glasses, a boyish voice and one badly beaten piano, Ben Folds rocked American University Wednesday night at Bender Arena.

Probably best known for the Ben Folds Five hit single “Brick” detailing a high school girlfriend’s abortion, Folds has been sans the Five (or two – bassist Robert Sledge and drummer Darren Jessee) since 2000.

He has since produced two full-length studio albums, “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” where he played a variety of instruments including the guitar, formerly frowned upon by the members of Five, and “Songs for Silverman,” which he recorded with bassist Jared Reynolds and drummer Lindsay Jamieson. He performed with this duo on Wednesday.

Folds also released a series of three EPs “Speed Graphic,” “Sunny 16” and “Super D,” throughout 2003 and 2004.

In 2003, Folds joined forces with Ben Kweller and Ben Lee to make the EP “The Bens.”

His most recent release is a 12-track album entitled SuperSunnySpeedGraphic, the lp, a compilation of Folds’ EP releases, b-sides, covers and film soundtrack appearances.

While I’m a diehard Folds fan and have been since the single “Brick” was playing daily on MTV, Wednesday’s song selection was disappointing. The majority of the selections were from Folds’ most recent albums, and he held on to some of his classics for the encore.

Since Folds is best known for his work with the Five, the audience’s reaction was less enthusiastic than it could have been.

He busted out a rousing, interactive performance of “Army” from the final Ben Folds Five album, “The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner,” dividing the audience in half and having them sing to the original trumpet and trombone parts.

He also played “Cigarette” from the Ben Folds Five album “Whatever and Ever Amen” and explained to the audience that it was a remarkably long run-on sentence that inspired him to write the song:

“Fred Jones was worn out, from caring for his often screaming and crying wife, during the day, but he couldn’t sleep at night for fear that she, in a stupor from the drugs that didn’t ease the pain, would set the house ablaze with a cigarette,” Folds said before playing it.

“Period,” he yelled to conclude the song. He then transitioned directly to “Fred Jones Pt. 2’ a ballad about Mr. Jones – a random character Folds read about – losing his job after 25 years of work.

Ben Folds is also notorious for covering other artists in concerts, including Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.”

Last night, Folds, in his preppy polo shirt and corduroys, chose to cover some Gansta’ rap by Dr. Dre. Also, he dazzled the audience by dually playing a synthesizer and piano with the cover, “Such Great Heights” by The Postal Service.

At one point Folds snatched the bass from player Jared Reynolds and attempted to jam out on that instrument as well.

He played songs with a variety of tempos including the tender tribute to his wife “The Luckiest” but then would play fast-paced piano rock to “Kate.”

While it seemed that many of the newer Ben Folds songs were unfamiliar to the audience, by the end of the show, people were on their feet and dancing.

Folds ended the show by going back to his Five roots.

He played “Narcolepsy” and “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces,” – both from Ben Folds Five.

The American University School of Communication Graduate Program in Journalism works to prepare students for the realities of today's news and information space and the challenges of tomorrow. Find out more by visiting us online at soc.american.edu

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