[ATTENDED: July 14, 2016] Ben Folds with yMusic
Both of the previous times had been as an opening act (and both times were with Guster, interestingly). So it was great to see him headlining. I didn’t know a lot about yMusic before the show, but I enjoyed his disc with them So There. It promised to be a great show.
And since, as I mentioned with Gracie Folds, we were literally three people from the stage, we knew the show would be special.
When the band came out, first it was the yMusic sextet. yMusic plays some pretty modern avant garde “classical” music. The band opened with the staccato fanciful piece “Beautiful Mechanical.” It had lots of different parts with each musician playing a notes and seeming to pass the music from one to the other. And then Ben came out. The arrangement had Ben at the center, but far in the back. He sat at the upright piano and proceeded to have a pretty great set.
The bulk of the show came from his album with yMusic (which makes sense). They played 5 of the 7 songs from the album (there’s also a concerto and a 2 minute improv thing which it seemed unlikely he’s play). The songs were “Capable of Anything” (fantastic, with backing vocals from the yMusic guys) “Not a Fan,” “So There”, “Phone in a Pool” (rocking and fun like Ben Folds does best) and “I’m Not the Man.” After playing “Capable of Anything” (the second song), someone shouted “Rock This Bitch!” and Ben chuckled. This venue is so intimate that you can hear just about anyone who shouts anything. I assume he was planning to do a funny improv based around “Rock This Bitch,” but it seemed like that inspired him to do it right then.
“Rock This Bitch” proved to be a five-minute song improvised around his settings (watch the first minute here). It was especially cool to see yMusic join in with him. It was very funny and was a great jam, too. yMusic tends to use sheet music (which I find fascinating), but they were able to handle the improv jam perfectly.
People were shouting out songs but he was quick to pint out that he had a list of songs right here and he was going to play them all. Then he said he could play all of his old stuff but then he’d be a “heritage artist”–fuck that shit. And then he sang another improv: “If I come here and play old shit all the time / That makes me … a heritage artist / I’ll play my new shit, even if it’s not that good.”
The new single (I guess it’s a single) “Phone in a Pool” sounded great and it was really fun to watch yMusic play along with him. He introduced each of the players at least once and nearly all of them had a chance to solo (except the cellist).
After a couple of songs, Ben left the stage for yMusic to play an amazing song called “Music in Circles.” It began with the viola player smacking the strings with her bow, producing all kinds of interesting sounds. And then the rest of the ensemble joined in with the flautist making these very cool exhaling sounds while playing (like an electronic Ian Anderson) It took me several rounds of that sound to realize it was her doing it. Closest to us on the right was the trumpeter/french horn player. He was a marvel to watch–holding the horn while playing the trumpet in the other hand and moving back and forth. He also used a mute for a few cool, jazzy solos.
But my favorite person to watch was the clarinet player because in addition to playing a normal clarinet he also had a bass clarinet which I’d never seen before. It made some great sounds and worked a an eccentric bass.
After they played, Ben came back and talked about his daughter playing before them, then he introduced the song that he wrote for his son (he and Gracie are twins, but since he was born first he got the first song–“Gracie came on th enext album, but he didn’t play it). They played the beautiful “Still Fighting” (which everyone sang along to).
I really loved when they played “Erase Me” a newer Ben Folds Five song. The album version has bunch of really noisy sections and the orchestra handled them really well–the cellist especially made some great sounds.
As we were walking to the sarge Sarah said, Do you think he’ll play “Jesusland” (a particular favorite). I hadn’t thought about how good that would sound with strings and boy did it ever–there’s even a violin solo on the album version–and live, it was perfect.
Someone shouted out “Bitches Ain’t Shit!” and Ben replied with a full-song-length reply about how he was now positive and he doesn’t sing songs like that anymore: “Think about the children/Think about the fucking children!” It led to a very funny song/story about when he played for John Mayer and got booed for playing “Bitches Ain’t Shit” so he played it twice and threatened to play it a third time if they didn’t sing along (I can’t verify the story but would love to see it). He sang about how traumatized his children were hearing at him get booed like that. It was very very funny.
He didn’t play too many songs from his other solo albums, which was kind of shame, but he did play a great version of “Effington” (the band sang the introductory “if there’s a god” part in great harmony.
Ben dug deep to play “Boxing” (from the Five’s debut album) which he says he wrote in 1986 (mutherfucker is old). It was mostly piano although there was some added clarinet and trumpet on it.
And then he told us that the next song didn’t really have an opening so tonight it would be started by the viola. And after a few minutes of wondrous noises coming from the instrument (joined by the rest of the sextet) Ben launched into “Song for the Dumped” which got the whole crowd singing along. (Actually the crowd sang along to most of the songs–it was great being at a show where everyone knew his stuff) but they were really into this one.
And they ended the main set with a roaring jazzy “Stephen’s Last Night in Town,” and as soon as I heard the wild clarinet intro, I thought, yes, of course it makes sense that they would play this with this arrangement It took on even more power as there was a very lengthy clarinet solo as well as a drums solo by Sam Smith. Yes, there was a drummer too, tucked in at the back of the stage, and he was great–playing subtle percussion and also rocking out when it was called for. He also played the shaker a few times prompting Ben to get the whole crowd to do an “air shaker” solo.
The band left for a few minutes and then Ben came back out for two solo piano encores–a beautiful version of “Landed” and then a very fun uptempo “Kate.”
yMusic came back out for a great version of “You Don’t Know Me” in which flautist sang the Regina Spektor parts (and the crowd shouted “Say it!” at the appropriate moment.
And he ended with everyone’s favorite Ben song, “Army.” Whenever I’ve seen Ben before he has had to conduct the audience in how to sing the horn parts, but this time we all knew what we were supposed to do and we sounded great.
When the band walked up front for a bow, we couldn’t believe we were just a few feet away from him.
Although there is something a little sad about a small turnout for a show, (there were about 1,500 people), it felt like he was singing just for us–and the traffic to get out was the length of one long red light–not bad at all.
We must convince other bands that we like to come play this venue.