• Review

Review: Ben Folds at The Taft Theatre

Ben Folds is truly a renaissance man. He has created an enormous body of music with Ben Folds Five, solo, and collaboratively. Ben Folds is also an outspoken champion of arts education and music therapy funding in public schools – check out his podcast of interviews on arts policies with current 2020 presidential candidates!

In addition to solo rock and orchestral touring, Folds has recently written a critically-acclaimed memoir “A Dream About Lightning Bugs,” which debuted as a New York Times Best Seller.

Folds is touring with Savanah Conley, a singer/ songwriter, who was raised in the thick of Nashville’s vibrant music scene, and it shows. Her solo acoustic performance was breathtaking. You could have heard a pin drop throughout most of her set. Between songs, she joked, “All of these songs in this set are really fucking sad.” The saddest of which, according to Conley, “All I Want” is powerful and beautiful. 

While Conley’s music takes your breath away, her humor shines through between songs. She told the story of how her Grandmother asked if “she was ok,” after listening to her EP Twenty-Twenty and of her new trend of matching her makeup to Lacroix flavors. 

Next up was the man of the evening. Since launching his solo career in 2001, Ben Folds has toured constantly, alternating between three formats: backed by a rhythm section, backed by an orchestra, and alone on the stage with a grand piano, as he performed Thursday night at The Taft Theatre. 

Having seen Folds multiple times in each of these configurations, I can say that his solo shows cannot be beat for their crowd-interaction factor as well as Folds storytelling about his life on and off the road. Folds tells a story like no other. Witty, self-deprecating, and able to hold the audience attention for minutes on end by sharing anecdotes or joking around. His solo sets allow him to meander off onto musical or storytelling tangents at will. 

Prior to playing, “Not a Fan,” Folds told us of when Ben Folds Five played Bogart’s back in the day before they had security and a stocky, prison-tattooed, black t-shirt wearing fellow strolled into the downstairs dressing room. This unsavory fellow told them he was not a fan, but his girlfriend was and demanded to know what the song “Brick” was about. As Folds gave him the standard press release answer, the guy was getting fidgety and suddenly their new to them tour manager (former tour manager for Slayer) and grabbed the guy and dragged him out of the dressing room. That is when Folds realized that this unsavory fellow and his girlfriend were “really not on the same page.”

At solo Folds shows, the audience becomes a part of the back-up vocals. Folds led the crowd in a four-way counterpart prior to “Bastard” while warning, “Don’t let your neighbor fuck you up.” It is also so great to see the look of surprise on participants’ faces over how good it actually sounds. 

His flair for vivid storytelling, to lyrical piano playing and sublime melodies, also ran through favorites like “Phone in a Pool,” “Landed,” and “Zac and Sara.”

Ending the night, Folds treated the audience with the Ben Folds Five song, “Army” from 1999. With no instruction what so ever, the audience broke out the simultaneous horn parts. It was as if as we were letting Ben Folds know, “We got you.” Come back soon Ben, we can’t wait to sing along again.

Check out photos from the show!