In the many times that Ben Folds entered the stage Saturday night at the Minnesota Orchestra, he proved again and again -- he's truly a master musician. And not just "that guy" from his new hit show, "The Sing Off."
In a somewhat low-key and slightly more conservative show, Mr. Folds showed the sold-out, highly diverse crowd that no matter what his performance -- solo or in front of a symphony orchestra -- he's still got the chops.
With what had to be a slight diss to the Vikes' sad performance of late, Folds kicked off the evening with "Effington," using the help of a small acapella group to perform the opening lines -- "If there's a God, he's laughing at us ... and our football team." Ouch, yet so true.
Always the charmer, Folds' in-between-songs banter was hilarious as usual -- even poking fun at himself, saying he was sticking with the formula of "song, back story, song, back story." He went on a tangent about his $900 shirt (provided by the "Sing Off" wardrobe) saying it's nicer than a Target shirt, but not $900 nicer.
He revealed the true stories of songs, admitted to "not working well with others" when it came to songwriting and made a pitch to support your local orchestra -- adding that in his career playing with symphonies across the world, he puts our Minnesota Orchestra near the top of the list.
Barreling through hit-after-hit, both old and new (and of course, ad-libbed), Folds dazzled in a rendition of "Zac and Sara" (where he did an impromptu "re-enter" for the applause -- and because it's usually the first song of the night), kicked up "One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces" and performed goosebump-raising versions of "Jesusland" and "Still Fighting It."
The addition of the orchestra really adds another dimension to Folds' music in a way that's somewhat surprising but also makes so much sense. In "The Ascent of Stan," the addition of a xylophone gave the song a fun, retro funk. The beauty of the song "Landed" came out in full force with the infusion of strings and soft percussion. And after a short intermission, "Steven's Last Night in Town" had great moments for trumpet solos, a violin solo and that great big-band flare.
When Folds slid into his emotional performance of "Brick," it was almost like hearing the song on a different level. The drama of the lyrics played wonderfully with the heartbreaking strings section.
It was a near-perfect moment -- but then the token drunk guy showed up. Now, had this been like Folds' First Avenue performance, whatever, no big. But since we're all classing it up a bit for the orchestra, a loud, obnoxious, attention-hungry drunk man just doesn't belong. If his mid-song loud clapping wasn't bad enough, he quickly followed it up with belligerent yelling and misplaced fist pumping. Sure, it was funny at first, but the humor quickly wore off after the 100th time.
Luckily, Folds' humor and beyond-entertaining nature continued to steal the show, despite other efforts. In a classic Folds move, the made-up song portion of the show was perhaps one of his best yet. He queued in the orchestra, playing a little ditty on the keys and asking them to follow suit. He added in strings, then percussion and soon, was conducting the orchestra from his piano bench.
During this improv song, he gave a shout-out to his morning breakfast spot, Keys -- adding it's funny because he plays the keys ... get it? Not one to leave anyone out, he soon instructed his side singing group to join in on backup to the tune of "Rock this b---- in Minneapolis." I'm guessing it's the first time "rhymes with witch" was sung in falsetto at the orchestra.
After a short encore and as the clock stuck 10 p.m., Folds excused his orchestra for the night, thanking them for their wonderful performance while singing a somewhat "swan song" during their exit. He sung about the hours orchestras keep, the underpaid and overworked life of a rock musician and ended with a quick plug to watch the return of his show, "The Sing Off," admitting the show faces stiff competition with "Dancing with the Stars" and "Two and a Half Men" at the same hour.
"We don't have a hermaphrodite," Folds sang. "We might be dead meat."
As the final musicians left the stage, Ben went into classic "Folds stance" and rocked the keys in "Annie Waits." The Minnesota Orchestra crowd transformed into a slightly different audience, with fans rushing to the stage and Folds joking that someone should start crowd surfing.
While instructing the crowd to sing the chorus, Folds took a tour around the orchestra -- playing percussion and taking a whirl on the xylophone, while members of the orchestra peered out from the stage door in amusement.
He sealed a highly bold night with an even bolder finale of "Army," unleashing every last bit of energy the singer had left.
And just like that, the ever-surprising Folds solidifies what his fans already knew and shows newcomers that he's far more than some reality show judge.
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