Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ben Folds @ UPS

So in the fall of 1997 I started 8th grade at Curtis Junior High. The year before I had been introduced to the two-disc Best of the Doors and The Who's Tommy, and so I was at this point hip deep in Doors, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and the like.

Why does that matter? Well, it's the reason why I wasn't one of those kids who listened to Whatever And Ever Amen over and over. I heard Brick on the radio, and at every school dance (well, the few that I went to... standing in the corner while a KUBE-sponsored DJ spun the same tunes over and over and other people had fun lost its appeal mighty quick), and I certainly never disliked it, but I was focused on the classic rock angle at the time.

Since then I've heard the record a few more times, enough to note that it was full of really good tunes, but having never owned it I never absorbed to the extent that I have The Wall, or Automatic for the People. So I felt a little out of place surrounded by people excitedly singing along to what I assume were Ben Folds's other hits Sunday night at UPS.

The show started off with Australian singer/songwriter Ben Lee. He's one of those guys whose name I'd heard, but couldn't really associate with any particular music. What I gathered from his performance is that he is an unabashed writer of pop songs. Musically the stuff is pretty formulaic, with its strum patterns and chord progressions. Not stuff that's interesting enough for me to ever buy. But live he makes it work. He has a tremendous amount of energy, and took something that started out feeling a bit like an open mic performance and ending with the entire crowd on his side, singing along. To me, he really embodied exactly what an opening act ought to be: got the crowd energized without wearing them out.

Then, of course, was Ben Folds. He is fun to watch, if a bit exhausting. I'm kind of amazed at how much of the show he spent standing, rather than sitting, at his piano. It turned the performance into much more of a full-body action, and allowed him to occasionally break off and run around the stage a bit, occasionally conducting the audience through three part harmonies (which worked out surprisingly well for being a couple thousand people in a gym).

Like I said, I'm at a bit of a disadvantage when reviewing the show from a song-by-song perspective. The only tunes of his I could name from the show were Brick, Battle of Who Could Care Less, and Rockin' the Suburbs. A couple others I vaguely recognized. But regardless of this, there was not a moment of the show that I did not enjoy. I was marginally disappointed not to hear Song for the Dumped and Evaporated, my two favorite songs from my limited Whatever And Ever Amen experience, mostly just because I feel like they would be fun sing-along songs. I love sing-along moments, but I love them even more when I can actually participate, which wasn't the case for much of the night.

Probably the highlight for me, before the closing three-part harmony song (and I would like to know which tune that was, if anyone can help me) was his rendition of Dr. Dre's Bitches Ain't Shit. I like watching musicians just having that much fun with a song.

So I stopped at Buzzard on my way home from work and picked up Whatever, and have been listening to it as I write this. And it's good. Really good. I suspect that by the time he comes back to these parts, I'll have a much easier time singing along to much more of the show.


Anonymous said...

Look! A Proper Review!

The song is "Not The Same"

He usually conducts a bit more, and he used to give more instruction. But I suppose since he's done it for so long his fans who have been to shows before know what to do.

My favorite is "Army" - some good audience participation. I've always loved when he's played that.

Glad you had fun!

freelance said...

i remember brick but thats about it. i also remember him appearing on The Hour but it was far too calm for me i think :D

Anonymous said...

I only know "Brick" by Ben Folds and one song by Ben Lee (Catch my Disease) - of which my opinion is: anyone who can work a little toy piano into a song is waaaay cool.

Anonymous said...

PS, I also liked (very much) your post on the Tacoma Hip-Hop scene. (Is Hip-Hop supposed to be capitalized? And hyphenated? Perhaps I should check the Hip Hoptionary)