Ben Folds and A Piano – Review

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Photo courtesy of CJ Foeckler / Pabst Theater Group

 

February 16th, 2017, the night Ben Folds brought a piano to Milwaukee. Ben Folds, formerly of Ben Folds Five graced The Riverside theater with just himself and a grand piano. If you aren’t familiar with who Ben Folds is, congratulations you probably aren’t a Millennial. Those of us that are familiar were treated to a very intimate show. The crowd, although not as uproarious as most shows I go to, were all clearly fans in the nearly packed house.

The show itself was about as enthralling as one would expect when listening to a pop/rock piano icon. Think Billy Joel, but on Valium. The pianist walks out on stage, sits at his bench with perfect posture, gives a mild “Hey Milwaukee, I’m Ben Folds,” before taking a sip of kombucha or gin, and got right to playing Phone In A Pool, a single off his latest album. Almost everyone in the crowd was singing with Ben like we were all old high school pals and then the set really took off. I use a bit of hyperbole when I say “took off”, because it was really just song after song of Ben Folds newer songs off his latest album, like “Not A Fan” and “Capable of Anything”. However, he did mix in a bit of the whole discography with the Ben Folds Five hit “Bastard” and some older songs like “Landed” and “You Don’t Know Me”, in which the audience pretended to be Regina Spektor.

Then Ben did something different than any show I’ve ever seen. He finished his setlist, said he was going to take a break (all out of kombucha or gin most likely), and while he was gone it was our job as the audience to write the 2nd half set list. Now, in order to do so you needed to write any song you wanted him to to play, preferably one of his own, make it into a paper airplane and throw it on stage. Unfortunately for me, I suck at making paper airplanes, so I just yelled things at strangers instead. The intimate setting, although still present, became alive with excitement as to what song he would play next. This is where the show turned into a complete different animal. It was hit after hit of mostly older stuff, that the crowd sang in drunken harmony.

Re-opening with Smoke”, Ben had us all in the palm of his hand and it was clear he was loving it. He then proceeded to grab another perfect paper airplane, much to my jealousy, and went back to it, until four songs later got to the real fan favorite, “Bitches Ain’t Shit”. That’s right folks, Ben Folds did his cover of Dr.Dre’s hit song, starting with a preface that he wasn’t an asshole misogynist. Hit after timeless hit such as “Rocking the Suburbs”, “Levi Johnston’s Blues”, “Gracie”, and “Cologne” all culminated into one of the most memorable show of the year. Of course the untimely end of the show had come, but not before he finished the crowd off with “Zak and Sara”. We all cheered and clapped and begged for more, so of course he came back and played for us “Army”.

With a humble entry, an interesting intermission and a finale that had us all screaming lyrics, Ben Folds and a piano is something that should not be missed. If not for being a fan, this show would have still wowed me with its simplicity, fun and heart.

 

Setlist:

Phone in a pool

Annie waits

Effington

Selfless, Cold and Composed

Bastard

Not a fan

Landed

You don’t know me

Capable of Anything

 

Intermission

 

Smoke

The Luckiest

Stephen’s Last Night In Town

Kate

Bitches Ain’t Shit

Brainwascht

Levi Johnston’s Blues

Rockin’ the Suburbs

Gracie

Cologne

Zak and Sara

Army

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