Rocked the house. There's no other phrase to describe what Ben Folds did Wednesday night at Princeton's McCarter Theater. Well, I guess there are other phrases. Stunningly brilliant. Extremely funny. A case of the sniffles (poor Ben had a cold). However you want to describe him, it's very likely that you've never seen anyone pound a piano the way Mr. Folds can (think Jerry Lee Lewis). Read on for more about his magnificent performance, and also about up-and-coming openers Miniature Tigers.
Let's start with those Miniature Tigers, who kicked the show off with an exceptional 6-or-so-songs. They swept through tracks from their new release, Tell It To the Volcano, an album that I will be reviewing very shortly. Their fun, catchy music is extremely pleasant to the ears, and they are certainly a "buzz band" worth checking out. A full post will be up about them soon, so I'm not going to write too much here- but great music, great guys, and a great live set.
Folds had me from the beginning: always the smart guy, he knows his best songs from every album, and chose to kick off the show with Way To Normal's standout, "Effington." Chills were running through the sold-out auditorium, completely filled with fans of every age. The singer's new band impressed from the start, with a funny cameo from a tambourine player and the bassist, Jared Reynolds, making his strong voice heard.
The concert whipped by with the type of adrenaline, flow, and groove expected from any Folds performance. He quickly dashed through Way To Normal highlights ("You Don't Know Me," "Brainwascht," "Dr. Yang") in order to get to the real good stuff (no offense Ben, but the latest album wasn't quite up to par). He played "Annie Waits," "Still Fighting It," and Zak and Sara" with ferocious vocals and piano skills.
Notably, the band left the stage midway through for Folds to play on his own for about five songs, and the solo experience was everything you'd expect it to be- truth be told, he really doesn't need the band. He brought the house down with "Lullaby," a Ben Folds Five song, transforming it into a bluesy piano jam. In the middle, he stopped singing for three or so minutes and let his piano do the talking- probably the night's highlight.
Folds also took on "The Last Polka" and "Fred Jones, Pt. 2" by himself. With "Polka," he took the opportunity to flip out on his piano, and with "Fred Jones," arguably his best slow song, he sang at just the right volume, with just the right amount of sympathy, about a man who is forced to leave his job due to the changing times.
Two more melancholy songs were scattered through the show, "Cologne" and "Kylie From Connecticut, both off of Folds' latest, and both phenomenal.
If it sounds like I'm praising the man too much, it's because I am. But going to a Folds concert is truly an experience: hearing him tell his stories, tear his piano apart (he snapped the low D string off during one solo, I believe it was the monstrous one from "You To Thank."), and sing all of his songs so beautifully. My one minor complaint with the concert is that with all of his great songs to choose from, Benny played not one, not two, not three, but FOUR of the "fake songs" he leaked before Way To Normal came out to throw people off. But why am I complaining? The songs were brilliant, and while it was an unorthodox decision, if you've ever seen or heard Folds, I think you know he's kind of an unorthodox guy.
And kudos to the Princeton Nassoons, the a cappella band who played before Ben (a Folds tradition) with a stunning rendition of "More Than Words," and others.