You Sing, I Write: Blast From the Past: Ben Folds at the State Theatre

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Blast From the Past: Ben Folds at the State Theatre

Going through my old clips from college, I stumbled upon my review of Ben Folds' amazing performance at the State Theatre by Rutgers University, in New Brunswick. I had completely forgotten about this show in October of 2005. If I remember correctly, this is the second concert review I wrote up for the paper that year, with the help of Brent Johnson, The Daily Targum's managing editor at the time. Read it below and let me know what you think!

Ben Folds Energizes Crowd at State Theatre
By Annie Reuter and Brent Johnson
Targum Staff Writers

Strolling on stage, Ben Folds walked right to his piano and started pounding out the opening chords to "Bastard."

The crowd's energy had already been building, as the more than 1,400 in attendance at the State Theatre Thursday night waited over half an hour for Folds and his band to begin playing.

Folds harnessed that energy with flair, standing over his piano stool like a modern day Jerry Lee Lewis as he thumped through his first few songs of his set. The alt-pop singer-songwriter drew plenty of excitement from the packed crowd, which was much larger than estimated ticket sales showed last week.

Only 1,000 tickets were sold in the first week, but they eventually picked up, said Rich Klumb, a School of Engineering sophomore and member of the Rutgers College Program Council, which organized the event — the first time it had ever hosted a concert at the 1,800-seat New Brunswick theater.

The crowd shouted and sang along for most of the 20-song, nearly two-hour show. The set list included full-band performances of five songs from his latest album, Songs For Silverman, in addition to older songs like "Annie Waits," "Zak and Sara," "Where's Summer B?" and set closer "Philosophy."

There was also a short set featuring Folds playing solo at his piano. During this segment, he played his biggest hit, the melancholic "Brick," as well as more obscure numbers like "Lullabye" and "Don't Change Your Plans" — all of which were from his days as the frontman of the 1990s alternative trio Ben Folds Five.

Folds got the audience laughing during his witty between-song banter, which included stories about how he once delivered wine to an old woman blasting porn music in her house or how he recently fell off the stage in Japan. "I look down, and I'm bleeding all over the piano," said Folds, after explaining why there was tape marking the end of the stage Thursday night.

The most laughs came when Folds played his version of Dr. Dre's graphic, "Bitches Ain't Shit," complete with a lovely melody and some dramatic acting from him and his backing band. "This is a song I wrote with Dr. Dre," Folds told the crowd. "I put some pretty chords to the lyrics."

Folds also coaxed some audience participation, as he taught the crowd how to mimic the horn parts to "Army" and how to sing backing vocals to "Not The Same." During the latter number, he ended the song by standing up from his piano, conducting the crowd as it sang the final few bars.

Folds closed the encore with perennial fan favorite "One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces," during which most of the audience stood up and bounced along to the perky melody and sarcastic lyrics.

While many audience members were from Rutgers, some traveled from out of state to see Folds perform. Rob Martino falls into the latter category. Traveling from Temple University, Thursday's concert was the fifth time Martino has seen Folds live. "Once again he didn't let me down," he said. "My favorite part was when he played by himself. That's when he used the crowd to be his band."

"There are only a few people in the rain I would wait for, and he is one of them," said Janaki Theivakumaran, a Rutgers College sophomore. "He made sure we all got autographs. I felt bad though because he was leaving for another city the next morning, so it was great that he stayed to make sure we got autographs."

Theivakurmaran said she enjoed the concert as well. "It was one of the best concerts I have ever been to," she said. "I thought [Songs For Silverman] was amazing, but he's even better live. He really knows how to get the audience pumped up and excited."

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