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Story and photos by Andy ArgyrakisSinger/songwriter/piano player Ben Folds has spent much of his multi-platinum career churning out infectious piano pop, anchored by one of the most joyfully irreverent personalities of the last twenty years. Though he's been known to buck the formula on occasion for various collaborations and specialty projects, last year's "So There" is arguably the widest departure to date, enlisting the likes of Brooklyn-based chamber sextet yMusic and even the Nashville Symphony for a blend of original orchestral songs and concertos.
In addition to debuting at the top of Billboard's Classical and Classical Crossover charts, Folds and yMusic's stop at the Riviera Theatre sold out by showtime, and though some were surely curious about this gear shift, many were simply waiting for "Song For The Dumped" and the many other Ben Folds Five and solo favorites. In fact, so many fans engaged in rude side chatter during the front half of the performance that the headliner blatantly softened his voice and piano playing in hopes of getting them to quiet down.
Unfortunately, it was an uphill battle most of the 90 minute night, which was a shame considering the majesty surrounding the tender arrangements and narrative storytelling of "Not A Fan," "Capable Of Anything," "Phone In A Pool" and "I'm Not The Man." Sure, they all took a significant leap beyond Folds' alternative origins, but he and these new friends definitely sounded great together and should actually be applauded for evolving rather than being grounded exclusively in nostalgia.
Of course, the place lit up when "Song For The Dumped" finally came, but it was hard to take a song that screamed "give me my money back you bitch" seriously in this context, especially when the original music didn't really lend itself to symphonic accompaniment (whereas a ballad like "Brick" would've been perfect). The old school swinger "Steven's Last Night In Town" was a much more all around appropriate selection, as was the grandly orchestrated sing-a-long "Army," both of which finally earned the full attention of the audience and built the most palatable bridge between Folds' vast creative worlds.
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