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Concert Review: Ben Folds Live in Houston, 11/18/05

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Ben Folds brought his three-man show to Numbers last month and put on a set over an hour and a half long, spanning material dating back to the mid-90s. He played old ones. He played new ones. He played new ones that were written in sound check two weeks prior. He even played Brick, which is one of those songs you figure an artist would never play again.

Michael Benning’s review of Folds’ latest release, Songs For Silverman, is spot on, and should be used as a framework for this review. The songs on Silverman are not standard Folds fare – that is, they are not dripping with sarcasm, filled with high-school social observations, or laden with innocuous middle-class-white-male cursing. They’re more mature (boring?) and translate accordingly in a live setting.

He did try to spice them up, however. After playing Jesusland (track 3 on Silverman), Folds told us they should have “dumbed-down” the production of the new album and the recording should have gone something like this: and then he launched into a version of Jesusland you might hear on, oh, church TV. This new rendition poked fun at large-scale televised worship and the crowd ate it up. The sarcasm was in full effect.

But of course most of the jump-up-and-down entertainment came from older tunes. Folds went solo with his piano in the middle of the set and played several songs, one of which was Army. In place of the trombones on the record, he split the audience in half and directed us in classic choir form to sing bah-bah-bah in unison. He also did something similar on Not The Same, teasing both halves of the audience by having them start and stop in the middle of their part.

Other highlights included a Dr. Dre song called Bitches Aint Shit, a la sleazy Vegas lounge music. The kids in the audience got an earful. Narcolepsy showed up near the end of the set and nearly blew the sound-system. Much of the song calls for the repeated bashing of cymbals and the speakers had a hard time keeping up with Ben banging on his piano. The quiet/loud structure of the song lent itself well to the stage.

The encore closer was, much to my surprise, One Angry Dwarf. If they didn’t blow the sound-system on Narcolepsy, One Angry Dwarf certainly let us know Ben could still be loud. And that’s really what we want to see, anyway. Mature Ben reflecting on life as an adult and parent may be suitable for relaxing at home, but when it comes to a live show, I want to see him hammer that piano like he was still a 20-something guy with something to prove.

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