TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2009
Soloists sounding off
GUITAR GAL: As a crowd of students watched (below), Sara Melson (above) opened for Folds with guitar and vocals during his perfomance at the Shapiro Athletic Center. Her music has been featured on ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’
PIANO MAN: Ben Folds provided a witty and personal musical experience for Brandeis students last Thursday.
Ben Folds took the stage for a heartfelt performance By LIAT ZABLUDOVSKY JUSTICE CONTRIBUTING WRITER
Ben Folds, most famous for his upbeat, piano-driven pop songs, is that type of performer whose stage presence seems to play off the energy of his audience. Sitting at a worn black grand piano on the stage of the Shapiro Athletic Center, he looked slightly out of place, perhaps even uncomfortable. He seemed a man clearly accustomed to bigger things than university concerts, a fact he certainly was aware of. Folds appeared to hold an odd contempt for his audience; he noted that they were “great for a gymnasium crowd” and explained multiple times (once in song form) that he originally did not
want to perform at Brandeis —strong words for a supposedly third-choice performer. While listing the names of the songs that Folds played would sufficiently describe the important parts of the night, in order to characterize the entire performance I would only need two adjectives: energetic (though not energizing) and emotive. Specifically, Folds slowed down his live performance of the cheerful Ben Folds Five pop track “Emaline,” giving it a confiding, intimate tone. At points he seemed to incorporate an R&B influence, crooning in a falsetto that felt both passionate and poignant. Folds appeared to be connecting with the audience through this song, seeming for the first time as though he were sharing something
meaningful. He had, for the few minutes that “Emaline” lasted, captivated the audience with a song that was both beautiful and personal. The entire gymnasium seemed to know the words to some of the more popular songs. “Landed,” a slow, emotional song about regaining independence after a bad relationship, got the entire audience singing, as did “Zak and Sara,” a fun and fast-paced song about the budding relationship between a boy named Zak and a girl named Sara. “Army,” a perhaps autobiographical piece about the life of a cynical, continually rejected middle-aged man, had a similar effect. Thankfully, the occasional spikes in the audience’s contribution got Folds to brighten his
typical sarcastic stage attitude a little. The audience’s participation appeared to be invigorating for Folds, lending a similarly hopeful quality to the three very different songs. An hour into the show, when Folds’ numerous extended piano solos were beginning to get old, he joined the audience together for a three-part harmony of the song “Bastard.” The combination of surroundsound vocals and the new, huge smile plastered to Folds’ face cemented the complex song as the best performance of the night. Written in several different time signatures, the fastpaced “Bastard” is not a particularly emotional song, but Folds quite literally pounded on the well-worn grand piano, breaking a key or
two in the process. His rendering of the song was raw and intense, a departure from the decidedly average performance of the song that he gives in the studio version on the album Songs for Silverman. The concert itself was overall not a bad performance. Ben Folds played many of his familiar hits, and several drunk and excited college students were able to hear live piano pop performed by a very gifted albeit slightly abrasive piano player. Fittingly, Folds finished off the night with an encore performance of “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces,” perhaps the angriest, most acerbic song ever to be played so cheerily on a beautiful old grand piano in the middle of the small stage of the Shapiro Athletic Center.
PHOTOS BY ROBYN SPECTOR/the Justice