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Ben Folds performs during the 2016 Roots N' Blues music festival.

Libby Moeller/Staff Photographer

Ben Folds rocks the suburbs and Roots N Blues

His piano skills and ability to connect with the audience made his set one to remember.

By Regina Anderson | Oct. 4, 2016

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The entire stage was bare, save for one black grand piano. And truthfully, that’s all Ben Folds needed.

“I’m just gonna sit up here and play songs I made up,” Folds said between songs.

Folds’ set was a showcase of his piano-playing skills (both Elton John and Billy Joel have raved about him) and his musical evolution over the past 20 years, from the early Ben Folds Five days to his recent foray into orchestral music. The night started with “Phone in a Pool,” a song from his most recent record, So There. While the setlist lacked songs from “So There,” Folds had enough melodies in his long repertoire to get through the night.

Folds knows his audience. He was always able to get the people in the crowd to participate, whether by conducting them in a four-part harmony (“three-part harmonies are too easy”) or by simply playing a song from his Ben Folds Five days. This type of participation is what his concerts are known for, with his most recent tour having an entire second set devoted to “paper airplane requests,” where audience members throw paper airplanes on the stage to request a song they’d like to hear.

Following Blues Traveler on the Great Southern Bank Stage at the Roots N Blues N BBQ festival, Folds was a tonal change for the night. His style of music isn’t as upbeat or bluesy, and with only a piano on stage, the set could have really lagged, leaving the audience bored. Yet, with his crazy piano interludes and affinity for swearing, Folds was able to keep the audience engaged even through songs they were not as familiar with.

It’s hard to not emphasize Folds’s musical abilities, as he is possibly one of the best live piano players out on the road right now. When he needed his full range of motion, Folds kicked his piano stool out of the way and used his foot as the night’s few moments with percussion. His talents really shone during “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces.” Folds simultaneously played the piano with one hand and shook a maraca into the microphone with the other then switched to a jazzy piano solo.

While Folds has some great upbeat songs, the ones that really connected with the audience were his slow-tempo pieces. When he played his song “Brick,” there was a certain solemnity that fell over the audience. He finished out the night with “The Luckiest,” a sugary-sweet, slow love song that had couples in the audience singing and swaying along.

Over his 20-year career, Folds has been able to connect to all generations through his musical evolution. There were kids in the crowd sitting on their parents’ shoulders, singing along. There were people in the audience who had been fans longer than those kids had been alive. Folds’ greatest achievement that night was providing something for everyone, whether a song or a story or a musical interlude that would stick with them long after the night was over. He put his all into it, and it certainly showed.

Edited by Katie Rosso | krosso@themaneater.com

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