Concert Review: Ben Folds with Special Guest Lady Danville at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston, MA
Ben Folds & Lady Danville Rating:
November 17, 2010
Reviewed by: Dorise Gruber
The historic Orpheum in Boston was the place to be on Wednesday night when rock-piano sensation Ben Folds came to town. Joined by the LA gentleman trio Lady Danville, the theatre was treated to bubbly harmonies, summertime anthems, and the vocal stylings of perhaps the best rock pianist of our generation.
The concert began early at 7:30, and you could tell that the all-ages crowd wasn’t particularly prepared for such an early start time as people were still filing into the theatre way past the end of the opening act. Their loss, really, because Lady Danville put on an extremely enjoyable set! It was refreshing to see a group of musicians that shared the spotlight equally: all front and center, all carrying three-part harmonies throughout the songs such that there really was no lead singer, and since they all looked like hip beachy nerds, what could’ve skewed emo never crossed the line from poppy to irritating, just remained fun and sincere.
Michael Garner, in Gilligan’s Island style stripes, sang from his keyboard, and led the boys on ukulele for a barbershop-style ditty called “I Want You Back.” They claimed this was a true story, but given that it involved lyrics of being stabbed I’m not sure exactly what kind of liberties they took with the truth. Drummer Matthew Frankel, decked in plaid, held down center stage with an extremely unique way of playing the drums. On the miniature kit, he drummed open-palmed nearly as much as with sticks, and I burst into a fit of giggles nearly every time I saw him smacking his cymbal with his hand. He didn’t even always use the drums, oftentimes opting instead to tap on his box-bench throne. This style made the songs really sound more “down home,” like they could be performing from your porch or at a summer camp talent show. Dan Chang on guitar looked most like he walked out of the cast of Revenge of the Nerds with plaid pants, bowtie, oversized thick plastic glasses and a sculpted fauxhawk, but the three-part harmonies that these guys crafted were so lovely that even his wacky style appeared more charming than off-putting.
Lady Danville was big into show-banter and storytelling, setting the tone for the Ben Folds Lonely Avenue tour. They told us a little bit about themselves between numbers, and even encouraged us to rename a song for a prize of $5 and a temporary tattoo. They sang a gorgeous cover of MGMT’s “Kids” which reeled the crowd in, and later took a picture of the entire audience for us to tag ourselves in on Facebook. I peeked: I can see myself in the photo, but the photo had already exceeded the number of maximum Facebook tags (50). Brilliant viral marketing scheme, fellas! I have to give these guys props, too, for doing their own break-down after the show. Normally you expect the pros to do set-up/break-down, but the Lady Danville guys carried off gear by hand and in backpacks. Nice to see musicians playing a huge show who aren’t too cool to lug their own equipment.
At about 8:30, a relatively shaggy Ben Folds made his way out to the stage. It’s the first time I’ve seen him live with a band that wasn’t “Five,” but the backup guys were able to add some nice harmonies and a battery of instruments that generated depth we may not have otherwise gotten from the set. Since if you don’t know who Ben Folds is you’ve probably been living under a rock for the last decade, I don’t think I really need to blab on about what a formidable pianist he is, how his pitch is perfect, how he is goofy and charming and oozes talent from every pore. Ben Folds has singlehandedly revolutionized the concept of piano as “cool,” and not just for classical or jazz musicians. His catalogue of music to select from is expansive, but the most recent addition to this work and focus of the current tour is his collaboration with English author Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy, Fever Pitch), Lonely Avenue, where Hornby wrote stories and poems and sent them to Folds to write the music.
Ben Folds performed powerfully, complete with rockstar-pianist keyboard stance, but the crowd at the Orpheum remained relatively subdued. People mostly didn’t even stand up until the last couple of songs in his nearly two-hour set, even though he played with such vigor he managed to break two strings. While his team came in to mend the breaks, he ad-libbed a song about a broken string, which turned into “Rock This Bitch.” Ben is no stranger to on-stage ad-libs, and regaled us with another past-ad-libbed song that he wrote on stage after having taken too much codeine for a virus. Another show highlight included his absurdist interpretation of the new Ke$ha song “Get Sleazy,” which had risen temporarily to the top of the charts about 10 minutes before he’d decided he wanted to do a cover song on tour. The largest crowd reactions, though, were drawn mostly from older hits, demonstrating the longevity of his fan-base. The room lit up with old Ben Folds Five hits (“Best Imitation of Myself,” “Kate,” “Underground,” “Army”), early solo career hits (“Still Fighting It,” “Annie Waits,” “Zak and Sara,” “Rockin’ the Suburbs”), and a few recent singles (“You Don’t Know Me” originally with Regina Spektor, “Saskia Hamilton”).
I saw Ben Folds Five play over 10 years ago shortly after Whatever and Ever, Amen grew popular, again about 5 years ago after Rockin’ the Suburbs when he played all by his lonesome relying on the crowd for backup harmonies, and this time with full back-up but still slated as a solo-artist. Every show has had a different texture, but as the years go on and Folds becomes increasingly more established, he brings with him more maturity but no less fun. I spoke to a college student before the show who mentioned to me that Ben Folds was on her “bucket list” of artists to see. No matter what genre of music you most enjoy, Ben Folds is a brilliant pianist with a unique sense of musicianship, and if you haven’t had a chance yet to see him live, I suggest you add him to your own bucket list.