Ben Folds at College Street Music Hall 09.22.16

Ben Folds brought his One Man and a Piano Tour to New Haven, Connecticut last week, with his daughter Grace Folds as the opening act. While it’s been less than a year since Folds hit the East Coast with yMusic, his solo show has a completely different feel. There’s more interaction, with almost a VH1 Storyteller’s vibe, and a chance for fans to request songs in a unique fashion.
This tour offers two unique VIP experiences: a Master Class and a soundcheck. The Master Class is a 45 minute q&a/meet & greet session with a small group of fans, lead by a local music educator. Laura Hilton, a choral director from Valley Regional High School in Deep River, CT, moderated the session for the New Haven show. Folds explained that he had wanted to do a meet and greet session many times in the past and felt it was important to tie in the music education system, which he is passionate about. Guests were also able to ask a few questions and then had the opportunity to have a photograph taken with Folds on stage and snag an autograph. During the session, Folds talked about what compels him to create music, his process of writing and anecdotes; including how he used to love to full on attack the bass drum during the 1812 Overture in his days in grammar school band.
The sound check was very relaxed. Folds brought a songbook to his piano and requested the fans in attendance shout out song requests. If he already knew the song, Folds would ask for another. When he needed a refresher, he would play a verse of the song, occasionally stumbling through the lyrics or chords. This was all in preparation for the second half of his concert. It was interesting to hear some deep cuts off his earlier albums as well as gain some insight to Folds’ process of writing the particular song.
Grace Folds took her seat at the Yamaha baby grand piano and greeted the audience with a smile. Her set was composed of tracks from her EP, Pink Elephant, and opened with the song Nathan. I was incredibly impressed by her confidence and composure on stage. At sixteen, I was absolutely terrified of playing a solo in jazz band, after constantly flubbing them in rehearsal; yet Grace Folds held her own on both piano and acoustic guitar. She joked often with the audience about the severity of her songs. She laughed as she recalled that she got in trouble her freshman year of high school for writing song lyrics on her arm because her teachers thought she was cheating on a test before she performed Yearbook Song. With a sultry voice that could rival Fiona Apple and the courage to delve into her emotions, I’m definitely looking forward to what Grace Folds offers in the coming years.
There was a very brief break before Ben Folds took the stage. Dressed in a jacket and tie,  holding a glass of whiskey, he sat at the piano then launched right into Capable of Anything, off his 2015 album So There. As with every audience at a Ben Folds show, the fans were eager and willing to sing along. The harmonies were broken down to the songs Bastard, Army and Not The Same with a little refresher course taught by Folds. Throughout the night, fans would sing the backing vocals without prompting, and every time, Folds would turn his head to the crowd with an approving smile. The first set ended with Uncle Walter from Ben Folds Five’s self titled album, with Folds explaining how the next several minutes would proceed. He told the audience that there would be paper provided in the lobby while his favorite Herb Alpert song played. Folds instructed the audience to write their requests on paper and make a paper airplane to launch at the stage after intermission. While there was a myriad of colored construction paper to select from, pens were in short supply.
Seeing paper airplanes float their way to the stage, sadly masked in darkness without the stage or house lights turned up, was amusing. Folds collected a stack and disassembled the planes at his piano. The second set was all airplane requests, while paper airplanes littered the stage for the remainder of the night. For the second time in all the many Ben Folds/Five shows I’ve attended, I heard Where’s Summer B? and the audience was just as excited to be singing along to Darren Jessee and Robert Sledge’s harmonies as I was. Folds even had his roadies bring out a drum kit piece by piece during Steven’s Last Night In Town and proceeded to pound out a solo at the right side of the stage.
It was completely refreshing to have an alternative to fans constantly shouting requests at an artist, while still being able to hear lesser known songs. Folds shows once again, all that’s needed for a fun night out is a man, a piano and a willing audience to fill in the gaps.

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