Review + Setlist: Ben Folds at the Pageant, Sunday, January 30

Jan 31, 2011 at 10:00 am
Ben Folds - Todd Owyoung
Todd Owyoung
Ben Folds

As the sound of a soul-funk emcee roaring like a crazy man boomed over the Pageant's soundsystem, Ben Folds and his four-man backing band ran around the stage. They climbed over their instruments, made lots of clanging noise, acted ridiculous - the piano man even shook his tush toward the audience -- and generally incited (and exhibited) the kind of panic usually only found at area grocery stores before winter storms. Folds even picked up his piano stool and threw it at the instrument several times, like the geekiest Incredible Hulk ever.

That was how Ben Folds' two-and-a-half-hour set at the Pageant started last night.

View a slideshow of Ben Folds photos from the Pageant

Folds launched right into two songs from his latest album, Lonely Avenue, after the dust settled from the grand entrance. Sporting a smart newsboy's cap and earthy tones, he looked rather English-major-like - fitting, since noted author Nick Hornby penned Avenue's lyrics. While its jazz-combo feel was solid, the sentiments within "Levi Johnston's Blues" unfortunately already sound dated. The next song, "Doc Pomus," fared a bit better, thanks to a French horn and a wave of choir-boy harmonies. Still, the momentum built by the antics-filled beginning fizzled due to song choice.

Things picked up several songs later on Rockin' the Suburbs' "Gone," which marries malt-shoppe-love-song music to bitter breakup lyrics, and then a version of Ke$ha's "Sleazy." Folds prefaced the song with a long story explaining, well, why they were covering it - but he didn't need to make any excuses: The straight reading of the electropop tune - with Folds replicating Ke$ha's celebutante monotone and his band burping out the recurring "Get sleazy!" call and drumline rhythms -- underscored the absurdity of the tune, but was way more amusing than it had any right to be.

Folds was more engaged with the crowd - and more important, with his music - than he was on last year's solo tour. Credit the presence of a backing band, which freed him from having to carry the night's charisma, music and energy all by his lonesome. Guitarist/percussionist/tambourinist Chad Chapin multi-tasked like mad in the back, most amusingly on "Saskia Hamilton," which zigged and zagged with whiz-bang synths and manic roars. Andrew Higley contributed (among other things) melodica and French horn; the latter especially enhanced "Still Fighting It," especially when paired with Folds' plaintive vocals and suspense-building keys-pounding. Drummer Sam Smith and bassist Ryan Lerman's contributions - especially their vocals - added the right amount of color.