Thursday, November 02, 2006

For the Ben Fans: "You were not the same after that."

I was sitting in Balcony section C, nearly in the center of the row. There were only a half-dozen rows of seats behind me. The piano and instruments and music stands on stage looked like small toys scattered on a playroom floor. Then the musicians entered and took their seats. Then the first violin. Then the conductor, who took his place and then spun and bowed with the flourish of a vaudevillean. Then Ben steps into the lights of the stage, dressed in a tee-shirt and khakis. The crowd went nuts.

The orchestra started playing for a few bars, and then Ben joined in, with piano: "Sara spelled without an H was getting bored..."

The crowd was both rivetted and rowdy. Some sang along. Some clapped. Some shouted out the appropriate background cues. There were few if any in the packed concert hall that were not fans of Ben's music.

I really want to give you a blow-by-blow account, but I can't. I knew, even as I watched and experienced the show, that it was blogworthy but that I couldn't do it justice. (I know I'll run the risk of overstatement throughout this post, when describing what it felt like, what it meant to me; so I'll state now that it wasn't a life-changing experience. But it was certainly affecting.) The thing that weighed on me, for as long as I allowed it to, was that it was an experience I really wished I could share with someone. I was alone. While I certainly appreciated the footroom, I would gladly have traded it for a friend.

I always knew Ben Folds wrote great music, but I never realized just how truly beautiful the songs were, until I heard them backed by an 80-piece orchestra. Wow. Just amazing.

The best I can give you, in terms of my account, are observations/anecdotes. These, I'll provide. First, the other tracks Ben performed (in no particular order): One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces, Philosophy, Steven's Last Night in Town, Brick, Smoke (one of my favorite performances!), Cigarette/Fred Jones Part Two (back to back), Narcolepsy, Lullabye, The Ascent of Stan, Not the Same, Jesusland, Landed, Gracie, All U Can Eat, and The Luckiest (his encore).

A few Ben-ecdotes:
  • His kids are actually twins, but Gracie came out a few hours (?) later. After midnight, actually. Which was after Ben's deadline for songs for the "Rockin' the Suburbs" album, so that's why the song for his son is on there, but "Gracie" came later on "Songs for Silverman." This split birth also means that his twins have different birthdays AND different zodiac signs.
  • Before "All U Can Eat," he said he had a "political speech" written out. When he finally launched into it, I was amused (and a bit relieved) to hear that it was a speech against the evils of the buffet--that scourge "with the French name" that maraudes our diners. He talked about the challenge issued by "all you can eat" and how we've beaten it into a submissive "all you care to eat." I thought that was funny.
  • He taught the audience the three-part harmony for "Not the Same." During the song, he didn't sit at the piano, but rather stood in front of a microphone and "conducted" the audience. In the end, he started "conducting" us wildly, much like Bugs Bunny in the famous cartoon.
  • One of the tenors from the Houston Grand Opera joined him on stage for "Narcolepsy" and sang Italian (?) operatic versions of some of the song lyrics, over the top of Ben's singing. The tenor's mike needed to be turned up, though.
  • The words for "Cigarette" (Fred Jones Part One) were, according to Ben, taken word-for-word from a newspaper account of a man who married a woman with a mental condition that caused her temperament to change wildly (even from a non-smoker to a smoker), and then wanted a divorce. Makes the whole thing that much sadder, that it was based in reality.
  • Someone behind me screamed out, "GO SLEDGE!" when the line about Robert Sledge's party came up in "Not the Same."
  • He compared the symphony musicians with rock stars, saying that the symphony "makes something really difficult look easy," while rock stars, by comparison, make something easy look difficult. He then demonstrated the 80's rock-video piano-playing technique (one hand on the keys, while the player stands like a duelist, waving the other hand behind him).
  • At the "end" when everyone clapped and cheered wildly, he came back out for the encore, and made a joke about how it was such a huge surprise to us that he came back. Then he sat down and played, "The Luckiest."
  • He talked about "Philosophy" as his theatrical piece, and how when he wrote the music, the "gay Broadway gene" came out.
  • Fun crowd interaction, especially when people kept screaming, "Rock this *****!" while he was trying to talk.
  • He didn't seem to be in the best "voice" last night, but he still was able to hit all the notes he needed to. The weather may be getting to him, though.
  • That was probably the most profanity ever used on the stage of Jones Hall.
Overall, it was a great experience. I can now check him off of my list of "favorite musicians I'm dying to see perform live." And I went home happy, concert teeshirt in hand.

Check out his tour dates. He's in Austin tomorrow, and Tulsa on Saturday.

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