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Ben Folds and the Seattle Symphony blow audience away
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Ben Folds and the Seattle Symphony blow audience away

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

Ben Folds
and the Seattle
Symphony Orchestra
October 20
Benaroya Hall


Singer-songwriter, pop dynamo, and former Ben Folds Five frontman Ben Folds joined the Seattle Symphony and guest conductor Robert Bernhardt on October 20 at Benaroya Hall for a concert that fans won't soon forget. I'm an avid fan, and like any good Folds fan, I've seen the musical genius in concert many times, but Tuesday's performance with the Symphony was so stunning it left me - and undoubtedly everyone in the audience - feeling like we'd just seen something very special. And, indeed, we had.

Ben Folds is currently touring the U.S. performing with symphony orchestras, a project that began in 2005. Folds has said he loves doing the shows because "it's a primal rush, playing with 90 people that are all good and well-disciplined."

As soon as Folds appeared onstage at the modern theater and began to play, a silence fell over the audience. The sound of Folds' melodic voice and uncharacteristically soft piano playing seemed to mix, in perfect symmetry, with the sound of the orchestra. This was a statement, an affirmation that this was to be no mere Ben Folds concert; it would be much more than that. The night was a celebration of art, and a music catalog created by one of the best singer-songwriters who, luckily for us all, is still singer-songwriting.

The show had many highlights, such as "Not the Same," where Ben led the audience in a three-part harmony, "Brick," the haunting song that thrust Ben Folds Five into the international spotlight in 1995, and the fan favorite "One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces." With its funny lyrics and irony, the song would've seemed out of place on the bill had it not been for the raucous playing from the very talented Symphony.

Some songs, many from his solo career, included an over-the-top version of "Cologne," which Folds explained to the audience is a song he wrote onstage in Germany when he was loopy from taking too much medicine to combat the flu, "Effengton," a song about a man driving past one small town on his way to another, and a beautiful ode to his daughter, "Gracie."

The night took on a VH1 Storytellers feel as Folds told the beginnings of each song he performed throughout the show, much to the audience's delight. The light audience banter was often comedic, even if he hadn't intended it to be - Folds is wonderfully awkward, something his fans have come to love about the shy frontman for sometime now. At one point, Folds turned to the audience and said, "Hi. I'm Ben Folds. For you ticket holders who came to see the Seattle Symphony and don't know who the hell I am, I'm the guy who wrote these songs." The beauty of the moment was comedic genius. I looked around and saw the audience as two factions: The jeans and vintage-clad Folds fans, and the suit and tie and cocktail dress Symphony fans. In the end, a winning bet is that Folds gained many new fans Tuesday night.

Folds was beckoned back to the stage by the lure of his fans' cheers. The Symphony, too, stayed to play "Narcolepsy" for the encore.

After departing the stage for a second time, the audience was hungry for more. Much to everyone's surprise, Folds reappeared, this time alone, to give the audience a special three-song encore, including "Rockin' the Suburbs," "Army," and "Rock This Bitch," a Ben Folds tradition where Folds sits at the piano and makes a song up as he goes about the city he's playing a show in.

It was refreshing to see a show - well, two shows, really - where the artist gave it all he had. Folds blew the audience, and maybe even himself, away. The passion with which he played and the lyrics that he sang were nothing short of amazing.

This program marked Folds' debut with Seattle Symphony and kicked off the 2009-2010 Popular Culture series at Benaroya Hall. This year, the series offers an edgier lineup that will include Rufus Wainwright, for example. For more information about future Benaroya Hall shows or the 2009-2010 Popular Culture series, visit the Hall online at www.seattlesymphony.org/benaroya/.

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