Ben Folds’ concert with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra last night turned the Meyerson Symphony Center into a convention of “Stuff White People Like” readers. I’m sure we all enjoyed sushi or gourmet pizza and wine for dinner, and updated our Facebook statuses with some clever blurb about going to see Ben Folds, before heading to the show. The audience was a sea of white guys with goatees and close cropped hair, and white girls with colorful scarves and pedicured toes, and had the electricity gone out, we would have been able to find our way to the exits by the light of our iPhones. It was uncanny, really, how alike we all were. Thankfully, though, despite our lack of diversity, we were treated to a truly fantastic and eclectic show. From his sweet ballad about his little girl Gracie, to his “Rockin'” anthem for discontent middle class white guys, Ben Folds was really something to behold – especially with a full orchestra and 8-person chorus to back him up.
Concert Song List
- Zak and Sara
- They Give No F**k
- The Ascent of Stan
- The Same After That
- Steven’s Last Night in Town
- Rockin’ the Suburbs
I was pleased that he opened with “Zak and Sara,” since it was one that I had hoped to hear. He didn’t play “Fred Jones, Part 2,” the other one I was hoping for, but there was plenty else to make up for its absence. My favorite song of the night was “Lullabye.” It’s always been a good one, but it was especially suited for a symphonic arrangement, and Ben and the orchestra really jazzed it up, taking it from big and bold to quiet and melodious, then back again. His piano playing was amazing on that one! See the video below from when he performed “Lullabye” with the West Australia Symphony Orchestra. It gets really good about halfway through.
He got his biggest laughs of the night when he told the audience the story of how he wrote the lyrics to “Cologne.” A German doctor had prescribed him some codeine, and after accidentally taking too many drops of it, he found himself quite loopy, performing at a smoky bar on his European tour. He started rambling on about what was going on in America, which at the time was the story of the “astronaut who put on a pair of diapers and drove eighteen hours to kill her boyfriend.” While at the time it was only a sign of his drugged state, he was able to turn it into (in my opinion) one of the best songs on his Way to Normal album. His performance of “Cologne” was enhanced by the vocal presence of the choir.
I was curious to see if he would tone down his usual spewing of profanities in the more refined atmosphere of the Symphony Center, and while it didn’t stop him from singing his “R-rated” songs, he did at least refrain from performing his hip hop parody “B**ches ain’t S**t.” It was ironic to listen to the lyrics of “They Give No F**k,” which talks about rich Americans with “all they can eat” and “driving their SUVs,” while we sat in the heart of upper middle classdom. I bet that song was a shock to any symphony season ticket holders who wandered in not knowing anything about Ben Folds. His other F-word themed song, “Effington,” was an unusual meshing of beautiful music, choral harmonies, and creative play-on-words. It was a hit with everyone in the crowd because of its clever lyrics and catchy melody. Here’s a live studio version of the song:
The concert had a very intimate feel, with Ben pausing occasionally between songs to talk to the audience, whether he was explaining the origins of a song or singing the praises of symphonic music. And he also made time for his crowd pleasing turn as a choir director, when he quickly taught us and then led us in three part harmony on “Same After That” (we sounded great!), and had us accompany him on “Army,” by supplying the “ba ba bas” that would normally fall to the brass section (he had already “dismissed” the orchestra when he did that song).
His song list had a lot of variety, as he found room for at least one song from each album. And he gave us a preview of his current project, a collaboration with writer Nick Hornby. I was intrigued by this news, since Hornby (About a Boy, High Fidelity, A Long Way Down) is one of my favorite writers. It actually makes sense for them to work together, since Folds’ quirky, introspective songs could be the soundtrack to many of Hornby’s novels. Still, I am curious to know how they crossed paths and decided to work together. Hornby is writing the lyrics, and Folds is supplying the music. He performed two songs from their collaboration, the depressing hospital-themed “Hope is a Bastard” (“You know what hope is /hope is a bastard / hope is a liar / a cheat and a tease / hope comes near you / kick it’s backside / got no place in days like these”), and the more light-hearted and comical “Belinda,” about a washed up rock star whose one claim to fame is his one hit from the ’70s about his now ex, ex wife. Every time he sings this song, he is thinking over his regrets about messing up his relationship with Belinda, while his aging fans sing along and think back to their glory days.
Folds’ first finale was the big band style “Steven’s Last Night in Town,” and we were happy that he returned to stage to play his token hit “Brick,” followed by the amazing (particularly with the orchestra) “Narcolepsy.” But we still wanted more, so after a painfully long round of applause and calls for more music, he returned to stage once more. This time, though, he dismissed the orchestra, and he and his fans were able to loosen up and rock out to two more tunes. He even signaled that he was morphing into his regular quirky self by sneaking over to the organ and playing the first few chords of the Nutcracker Suite. He said that by doing so, he was fulfilling a lifelong fantasy. Afterwards, the crowd of white folks had a rip-roarin’ good time rockin’ out to two classic Folds’ tunes, “Army” and “Rockin’ the Suburbs.” As amazing as hearing him with the full orchestra was, the night was made even more special since he treated us to this second encore that was geared to his faithful flock. Everyone left happy, including me.
I’ve now seen Ben Folds in concert three times, and I would see him again in a heartbeat. He remains my favorite live performer. I love the ease with with he can demand a crowd and make us feel at home, whether it’s in an auditorium or a symphony hall. And while he has an everyman quality about him with his voice, appearance, and demeanor, he is an extremely talented musician and performer. If you aren’t familiar with Ben Folds yet, then do yourself a favor and discover him now! I’ll leave you with a video of him performing “Narcolepsy” with the WASO. So good!