Members of the Ben Folds cult were in full force at the Hilbert Circle Theatre in downtown Indianapolis when the singer, musician, composer, songwriter and recording artist appeared Wednesday with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Principal Pops conductor, Jack Everly.
Folds, the former front man and pianist for the Ben Folds Five, an alternative rock band that was popular in the 1990s, is now a solo artist. He is known for his quirky lyrics and themes, but also for his playing technique and music, where he combines elements of jazz and power rock.
Folds, also has become known to wider audiences as one of three celebrity judges on NBC’s a cappella competition series, The Sing Off, now in its third season.
Playing to a packed house made up primarily of thirtysomethings (with some children in attendance), Folds performed many of his signature hits. Based on the cheers and squeals of recognition emanating from the audience each time a song was introduced – and also the crowd’s familiarity with lyrics during sing-alongs – it was obvious that many present were die-hard fans
Effington, Smoke, Landed, and Brick were just a few of songs from Fold’s repertoire that were performed. Playing a variety of lush and sweeping orchestrations by several composers (including many by Paul Buckmaster, Grammy-winning arranger and composer), the ISO was magnificent as they accompanied Folds, who often stood at the piano.
A small choir, reportedly made up of fans of Folds, also participated. The singers, who added to the majestic sounds produced by the ISO, accompanied Folds in his tribute to a hippie friend, The Ascent of Stan; Jesusland, which is on the soundtrack of Bill Maher’s Religulous; and Cologne, a hilarious song with lyrics about “an astronaut, [who] put on diapers, drove 18 hours, to kill her boyfriend.”
Folds was witty and affable throughout his show as he engaged the audience, sharing background information about each song and stories about his life and career.
As Folds stood before a mike to sing Not the Same, he talked about his experience on The Sing Off and the challenge the contestants face.Offering the audience an opportunity to harmonize with him during the song’s chorus, he assigned three parts to different sections of the audience and conducted them throughout. The results were surprisingly good, as evidenced by Folds’ remark afterward to Everly that the audience “was completely in tune.”
Folds, who is known for his high-energy live performances, did not disappoint his disciples. Their intense enthusiasm was clearly evident by the time he closed his show with One Angry Dwarf, a composition with a Dixieland jazz flavor. Marked by a driving beat, the arrangement featured a spectacular drum solo.
Prior to the show’s conclusion, Folds, spoke of “the atrophy taking place with music education in this country,” and he also talked about how symphony orchestras are good examples of how “people work together,”– comparing them to politicians in Congress who don’t.
Calling symphony orchestras “pillars of our culture,” he praised the ISO and encouraged the audience to support it by attending their concerts. No doubt Folds’ comment was music to the ears of ISO marketing personnel, who are striving to attract younger audiences.
After Folds and the ISO took their bows, the orchestra exited, and Folds took to the stage solo to perform an encore that featured more of his hits – Annie Waits, Army and Emaline. The audience stood throughout.
Once Folds left the stage, the audience’s sustained applause caused him to return for a second encore. Upon entering the stage, he teased the crowd by briefly playing instruments such as the cymbals, drums and xylophone prior to moving to the piano to play and sing Rockin’ the Suburbs from his 2001 album of the same title.
For information about upcoming Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra 2011-12 season concerts, call the Hilbert Circle Theatre box office (317) 639-4300 or visit www.indianapolissymphony.org.