I was trying so hard to appear cool and jaded. But even though I had already seen Ben Folds in concert five times before Sunday night's sold-out show at Jesse Auditorium, I was still as giddy as a first-timer by the time he took the stage.
Ben Folds was preceded by Corn Mo, a guy in a white jumpsuit who kind of looked like Meat Loaf and played the accordion. Take a moment to pause and wrap your mind around that. Not only did Corn Mo actually play "Freebird" when someone in the audience "requested" it (as someone in the audience is always wont to do), but he also covered Queen's "We Are the Champions" on the accordion. Color me impressed, although for the most part I enjoyed his rambling stories about time travel, robotic horses and Benjamin Franklin more than his actual songs.
After Corn Mo's set, the audience was given about 20 minutes to process the awesomeness of his accordion skills before Folds took the stage, while everyone in the floor seats stood up and cheered. He opened his set with the song "Trusted" from his 2005 album Songs for Silverman.
In addition to bringing a drummer and a bass player with him, Folds also brought a newer friend: a little red synthesizer.
One of the highlights of seeing Folds live is the amount of improv he works into his set, including what has become a Folds standard "Rock This Bitch," an improv on the commonly known phrase that Folds plays in a different style at every show, from jazz to polka. Sunday night's show was no exception. Right after he finished "Trusted" he launched into a funny little improv about his synthesizer after someone in the audience yelled out that he would hold Folds' synth for him (Folds had just mused that he didn't have a good stand to hold it.) Later, he put the synth to good use, on a version of "Rock This Bitch" that he dubbed "Rock This Digital Bitch." When combined with the seizure-inducing lights onstage, I felt like I was at a rave, and I was loving it.
The synthesizer definitely brought a different overall flavor to Folds' performance. Other highlights of his set included a synthed-up cover of the Postal Service's "Such Great Heights." After a false start where Folds warned that he might forget the words, the cover was great and more rock and roll than The Postal Service has probably ever sounded.
Despite the presence of a synthesizer, there was plenty for Folds purists to enjoy as well. Above all else, Ben Folds is an extremely talented composer and pianist, and it really showed on songs like "Fred Jones, Pt. 2" and "The Ascent of Stan."
Another reason to see Ben Folds live is the amount of audience participation that occurs. For example, the song "Army" from Ben Folds Five's album The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner has a killer horn section, but live, Folds uses the audience as the horn section, having half act as the trumpets and half as the trombones. Even the most cynical concertgoer would have been hard-pressed not to smile Sunday night while imitating a trombone as Folds sang about growing a mullet and working at Chick-fil-A.
An excellent and energetic encore of two Ben Folds Five songs, "Narcolepsy" and "One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces" brought the entertaining evening to a close. From accordions to synthesizers, this bitch was definitely rocked in a variety of ways.