Ben Folds is widely regarded as one of the major music influencers of our generation.
He’s created an enormous body of genre-bending music that includes pop albums with Ben Folds Five, multiple solo albums, and collaborative records with artists from Sara Bareilles and Regina Spektor, to William Shatner. His most recent album is a blend of pop songs and his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra that soared to #1 on both the Billboard classical and classical crossover charts.
For over a decade he’s performed with some of the world’s greatest symphony orchestras, and was recently named as the first ever Artistic Advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
Folds continues to perform with symphonies and also recently returned to solo touring reminiscent of his earliest years, delivering a high energy rock performance using the intimacy of just a piano.
It’s hard not to be instantly enamoured by Ben Folds. He’s unique, loved, yet understated. He performs his solo show ‘With a Piano’ on the waterfront stage on a sunny Saturday lunchtime at Latitude. The diminutive Ben looks almost bemused as he steps on to the grandiose floating stage; the fanciest of pianos, bridge full of onlookers and incongruous gondolas drifting behind him.
Ben Folds didn’t hold back and immediately served up one of his more well-known songs, “Annie Waits”. The audience were immediately doe eyed and bewitched. Ben has been playing these hits for decades, yet nothing about this set felt tired. He threw energy into each song, giving a fresh, invigorated performance.
There’s something charmingly neurotic about Ben, making him even more likable and familiar. His set was plagued by some unreliable mic stands – each one flopping sadly from its stand and stopping his flow. He dealt with it in reasonably good humour and distracted us from his sub perfect equipment with a few off the cuff dad jokes.
We were also treated to his eccentric and creative side – winning over the crowd by creating improvised songs about the onlookers from the bridge and bringing the audience together in an impromptu choir to provide the backing for one of his final songs.
It was clearly an audience of fans, with most people mouthing along to every word of his songs. My enjoyment of the whole thing was only slightly tempered by the man sitting to my left, who decided that mouthing just wasn’t fun enough, and what we all needed was his off-key, off tempo accompaniment to each song. However, a quick (and obvious) finger in my ear, and I was good to go, albeit not hearing in stereo.
Ben is totally loveable. His inimitable music combines power pop, jazz fusion and (sometimes) autobiographical tales of quirky characters. Billy Joel can only dream of being this cool.