Lyrical genius and piano-pop rebel Ben Folds returns to Australian shores this August performing to a packed-out house at the Perth Concert Hall. Here to perform songs from his 2015 full-length album collaboration with the New York sextet, YMusic, Folds delighted with a career-spanning combination of Ben Folds Five favourites, new and old solo songs, as well as many new offerings, generally delivering the goods with his signature swagger and formidable musical skills.
It’s been a long-standing love affair between Folds and Australia, a country he describes as home (he previously lived in Adelaide and wrote a song of the same name on the 2004 album, Super D). It’s a country which has embraced him since the inception of his career, from 1997’s breakout hit “Brick” through to his solo albums, as well more recent offerings and collaborations. Perth marks the start of the current tour, and if last night’s performance is anything to go by, the rest of the country is in for a treat.
There was no sign of Folds’ signature suit and tie combination when he appeared on stage – instead Folds sported a red shirt and cardy – a combo that goes well with the geek-chic look he’s perfected. All spectacles and unruly hair, Folds opened with “So There,” the title track from his latest album (and a general crowd-pleaser) followed by “Capable of Anything,” a tune that is testament to the merit of his decision to collaborate with YMusic.
Not only is Folds an amazing musician, but he’s also cracking good company, his sets littered with jokes and a decent spattering of F-bombs. And of course, no Folds gig would be complete without a performance of the expletive-riddled (or is it?) “Effington,” a song about a fictional American town based on the real city of Effingham, Illinois. Folds has a self-deprecating wit (a trait not usually associated with your average American) that goes down well with tall-poppy-lopping Australians, and his banter in between sets had the audience laughing and cheering in equal measure. He’s also a talented improviser, and a call from the audience to “Rock this Bitch” (apparently code for requesting an off-the-cuff offering from Folds) had him delivering a tune that was arguably worthy of a spot on his next album.
While Folds was the main attraction for attendees at last night’s gig (this was the first time I’d heard of YMusic), the sextet (composed of cello, flute, trumpet, clarinet, violin and viola) are excellent on their own terms, infusing Folds’ work with some jazz sensibilities as well as aiding in novel reinterpretations of several of his classic tracks. Unsurprisingly, the group has collaborated with other noted singer/songwriters, working with the likes of Beck, Bon Iver and José Gonzalez, to name a few (they are now also firmly on this writer’s radar.)
Overall, it was a great night, Perth Concert Hall providing a suitably grandiose atmosphere for a Folds performance that has taken on a more orchestral direction. Albeit, some of my older favourites didn’t get played (while “Evaporated,” “Song for the Dumped” and “Still Fighting It” were all performed, I was devastated that “The Luckiest” didn’t make an appearance, but you can’t win them all). Regardless, it was one of the best gigs I’ve been to this year, and marks a new and exciting direction from a much-beloved artist, and proof that pretty much everything Folds touches turns to gold.
Ben Folds with yMusic
Venue: Perth Concert Hall
Date: Tuesday, 23 August
Tickets: $89 – $115