Believe it or not, it’s been a staggering seven years the last solo album from Ben Folds. Although he released a new Ben Folds Five record three years ago, he’s been long overdue for a new record of his own, and it just so happens that we are getting one sooner than we expect. Although it’s not quite a solo record, but more of a collaboration with hot-rising NYC classical sextet, yMusic. I’ve seen the group open and play alongside a few acts, and am quite excited to see what their album produces. For those unfamiliar to them, they’re a mix of a classical orchestra with a modern rock-band twist. Considering how Folds has blended the line of classical piano and pop for so many years, the two are a match made in heaven.
Folds and yMusic stopped into New York City last week for sold out shows at Bowery Ballroom, Music Hall of Williamsburg, and Town Hall. I caught the first show at Bowery Ballroom on Monday night, and what a performance it was. There was no opener, just the central performance of Folds and yMusic. The sextet got the night started with one of their original pieces, the appropriately titled “Beautiful Mechanical.” From there Folds joined them playing a selection of their new “chamber pop” pieces, as well as some of his own songs that were best fit for additional help from an orchestra.
Folds pieces with yMusic mixed his ear for classical orchestration with his energetic pop sensibilities. You could sense that a lot of fans weren’t quite sure what to expect, but once Folds and yMusic got through a couple of songs, his fans were right there with him. He made it easer for us by mixing in familiar cuts like “Effington, “Cologne,” and “Erase Me.” It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Folds live, but memories of past shows came back to me during “Not The Same,” where Folds came to the front of the stage to conduct the crowd’s split harmonies, taking me back many years ago when I first saw Folds do this in my earlier concert going days. It thrilled be just them same, if not more so as I now have an even greater appreciation for his constant dedication to his audiences involvement, and enjoyment, of his show.
There was a great deal of comradery between Folds and the crowd, sparked by a joke that Folds told about a hashtag that started for one of yMusic’s members at an earlier show. Later in the night this resulted in a fan shouting about a hashtag for “the flute player.” Folds only heard “the flute player” and took it as a chance to improvise on a song about “the flute player” which soon became a full on out jazz performance, with yMusic full on and ready to follow their leader through his hilarious improvisation. It was an unforgettable moment, one that lasted pretty much the whole show, with fans shouting “the flute player” as we waited for them to reemerge for the encore. If anything, this took a bit of steam away from Folds performance of “Rock This Bitch” a improvised song that he almost always performs during his shows. But still impressive was the fact that he and yMusic were ready to create yet another new song on the spot, and make it look easy. The impressive six-song encore took us back through a look at some of Folds best work throughout the years: “Best Imitation Of Myself,” “Underground,” “Zak and Sara,” “Annie Waits,” “Army” and “You Don’t Know Me.”
It was wonderful to hear so many classic songs from Folds given a unique treatment by yMusic who spruced up the songs where orchestration fit, while also adding just enough of their own style to give it a unique spin. This, along with the first look at their collaborative material with Folds in such a intimate setting, made this show one of the best shows I’m likely going to see all year. I forgot how bad I needed Ben Folds back in my life.
Photos and setlist posted below.
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