Go ahead, you can laugh all you want…

Gig Review: Ben Folds @ o2 Academy 26.02.11

Ok so, I know it’s almost a month after the fact (blame my dissertation for this) but I just wanted to do a little ditty about the Ben Folds gig I went to last month.

My whole family loves Mr Folds, so my ‘little’ brother and I decided to fork out the hefty £25 for a ticket to see the fella live in Sheffield. Seeing as we’d both seen him a coupla times before, we knew it would be worth it in the end…

The supporting act was Kate Miller-Heidke, a singer-songwriter from Australia, who performed some acoustic songs with her husband Keir Nuttall. Not only does is there a tangible sense of humour and eccentricity in the songs she performs but Miller-Heidke pulls the rabbit out of the bag two songs in when she erupts into full operatic vocal range, which both stuns and delights the audience. My brother (a fan of operatic death metal) will know more about operatic vocals than I do, but all I can say is that I’ve never seen anyone hit those kinds of notes live before and it was a pretty novel and energizing experience. Bravo.

Ben Folds was (of course) the consummate showman. He is an unbelievable pianist and multi-instrumentalist who has an uncanny ability to be technically astounding and simultaneously semi-chaotic – totally rock n’roll. I’d go so far as to say that Folds is the best rock pianist in the world. Also, he surrounds himself on stage with technically gifted, funny and charming musicians who really do all the songs justice (and surprise Folds by coming back on stage later wearing fake moustaches). The band really have their harmonies down too.

Even when there are technical difficulties with the grand piano, Folds and the drummer perform an epic jam to keep the audience entertained – seriously, the dude is amazing at slap bass.

Having such a prolific back catalogue means that the set list is always varied and exciting especially because Folds has just released an album with Nick Hornby entitled ‘Lonely Avenue’. I have to say the new stuff live really sold the entire album to me and I love the narrative lyrics in particular. Live highlights from the new album include single ‘From Above’ which also features Miller-Heidke on vocals, and it was nice to see the two musicians performing together.

One of the greatest thing about seeing Ben Folds is that he always tries to create a rapport with his audience and the audience themselves are very diverse. There were whole families there, young adults with their parents, parents with their young children, middle-aged couples, younger couples, students…you name it. It was nice to see that such a diverse group of people can take pleasure from the same music. And Folds fans are hardcore!

After some amusing banter with crowd, including an ad-libbed ode to Sheffield (tentatively titled ‘Sheffield has balls’…glitter balls that is) and a rendition of a Ke$ha tune, Folds also performs a section with just him and piano where he takes requests from the audience. This included taking some lyrics penned by a member of the audience and performing them on-the-spot, which was not only absolutely delightful but it also showcased the fact that this man is song-writing genius. The audience are also encouraged to sing their heart out to the old classics ‘Philosophy’ ‘Underground’ and the ever-infectious ‘Army’ (did I mention that Folds fans are hardcore?).

The band plays for an astounding 2 hours and during that time I laugh, I sing, I have chills running down my spine and I have tears in my eyes. All the classic Ben Folds tunes I’ve grown up with were blasted out with sincerity, fun and humour, sheer technical skill and a real joy for music. Probably one of the best gigs I’ve ever been too.

Set List (in no particular order, probably with a few holes in it, from a bad memory):
Levi Johnston’s Blues
Doc Pomus
Picture Window
Saskia Hamilton
Annie Waits
Zak & Sara
Rockin’ the Suburbs
The Luckiest
Kate (?)
Songs of Love
You to Thank (?)
Still Fighting It
You Don’t Know Me

Comment if you want to add/retract from the setlist!
Words: PM

Kate Miller-Heidke @MySpace  Ben Folds Official Website

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