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March 25, 2010

Concert review: Ben Folds at Rams Head Live

ben folds

Midnight Sun guest poster Andy Rosen saw Ben Folds last night, Here is his review:

Last night's show at Rams Head Live was advertised as Ben Folds "and a Piano." Though Folds had the stage to himself, he spent part of the evening broadcasting randomly selected chat video dispatches from the freakish world of Chatroulette.

The foray into the Internet fad, which connects people and their web cams without prejudice, produced several rejected connections, a naked woman and a quick chat with a bejeweled man named "Blas."

But it was perhaps the people who Folds didn't bring to the stage who most defined his performance ...

Folds made his name with the piano rock trio Ben Folds Five, and continued his success with a series of albums filled with catchy, emotional and often satirical compositions. And though his keyboard has always been the focal point of his music, Folds' success has also been built on the big sound produced by his backing band.

Folds' Baltimore performance felt more like "An Evening with Ben Folds," than a rock concert. That's presumably how he wanted it. He played on the Internet. He told stories about writing his forthcoming album with novelist Nick Hornby.

He got up from his piano and conducted an enthusiastic crowd in a several minute, chant-ish vocal performance that evolved from his solo track "Not the Same." He also finished his encore and left the stage before 11 p.m.

For fans who were familiar with Folds' work, the North Carolina-grown singer's show was probably satisfying. He did the classics. Remember "Brick?" He played that, but he also busted out a new track, apparently pulled from the forthcoming album written with Hornby.

One of the songs was about Levi Johnson, who impregnated the daughter of former Alaska Gov. cum vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. The key line?

"I'm a [expletive] redneck. I live to hang out with the boys, play some hockey and kill some moose."

But it's unclear how effective the show could have been in winning over new fans. This is an important consideration for a crowd that seemed largely composed of 20-something women and their reluctant boyfriends. One man on a piano can only do so much when he's playing songs that were written to be played with a rock band.

The bass fuzz and solid drums in Ben Folds Five and the high production values of his solo albums make the tracks what they are. Folds is good when he has company, be it on Chatroulette, in the crowd or on stage. He would do well to bring along a backup band if he wants to rock the house the next time he comes to town.

(Handout photo)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:42 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Concert reviews


Eh, I thought it was good. Maybe it was just the fringe/bar demographic, but everyone there seemed about ten years older than me (I'm 23) and were hardcore Ben Folds fans who didn't miss the other four.

folds is a great musician and has a dumptruck of charisma so i dont think it was a problem at all that the set had a variety show feeling. i disagree that the songs didnt translate deconstructed. great experience, got free tickets from TMD (thanks sam).

It wasn't "Not the Same," which he usually conducts everyone on. It was "Bastard." :) Unless he played "Not the Same" after 10:30 and I missed it!

8th time I've seen him and probably one of my favorite times.

This was an all ages show. There were children present at the venue, and Mr. Folds projected x-rated vulgar video. I was very disappointed at the sophmoronic antics. I bought 4 tickets and feel I totally got ripped off. Maybe he wants his kids to watch porno, but I don't.

To the commenter above - if you've listened to his music you know he doesn't shy from "bad" words, and he gave AMPLE warning to get the kids away. If you are concerned with what your kids are seeing, you shouldn't bring them to a nightclub to see a performer who swears! Wait till he comes to Wolf Trap in the summer and cover their ears.

I don't have a problem with bad words. I have a problem with split legged vagina shots with fingers going in and out and a black rectangle on her anus. We are not talking about bad language. It was not right for the venue to accept money for an all ages show.

Be thankful there was no full-blown penis shots during the ChatRoulette segment. Tis a scary place, the internets.

The line quoted above from the song about Levi Johnston was actually a quote taken directly from his MySpace page. My politically in-tune companion pointed that out to me mid-song and it made it that much more glorious. I also loved the other song he played from the upcoming Nick Hornby collaboration. The lyrics about hope in that song will definitely be a mopey facebook status for me at some point... haha.

I've seen Ben Folds a bunch of times, and I think it's pretty cool that he seems to tailor his setlist to the crowd. Last night seemed heavy on the Rocking the Suburbs and Way to Normal albums because he was getting a lot of crowd response from them. Once he strayed into the older stuff and saw that people were still digging it, he played a few older tunes.

Apparently he's had varied success with the Chatroullete thing, apparently the Charlotte show had some good characters involved. Backstory on the Chatroullete thing here: And, yeah, I'm with Michelle, he couldn't have been more clear about taking your kids out of the theater for a little while if you didn't want them to see anything bad.

It was a good show, but my only complaint would probably have been the piano itself sucked. I'm not sure if that's Rams Head's piano or one he's travelling with, but it was terrible. Ben commented on it himself, but then pointed out that if he were a true Master it wouldn't matter. He was still way better than most, so I dug the show overall.

Kateebee - Thanks for that link! And YES, when he said "this is from his MySpace page" it makes it all the better. I heard him do that with the NSO and it's a great song!

I'm now thinking I need to find out when his upcoming shows are and hang out on Chatroulette all night hoping to stumble upon...hee!

Does anyone else think that Arlene got turned-on while crafting her second post.
God, give it a rest.

I agree that the nudity was a bit much, but it's not like he was looking for that! He found what he was looking for in Blas, and I guess was trying to find one more unsuspecting person. Anyway, like some of the other posters said, he did give plenty of warning to the parents! I'm a long time Ben Folds fan, and all in all I thought last night was great. Conducting the crowd during "Not The Same" and "Army" is something I have seen him do at every show that I have attended, and anyone who has ever seen him live knows he loves to talk. Nothing new there! I think any Ben fan would have been satisfied by last nights performance.

I'm really jealous that all my friends were at this show except for me.

But I got Gogol Bordello and Citizen Cope coming up at the end of April and I look forward to them.

FYI- Apparently Ben is coming back to Maryland with Weezer in April. I think out in College Park or something.

"It's unclear how effective the show could have been in winning over new fans." I think that about sums up my experiance. I'd been dying to see Ben since I first heard the Ben Folds Live recording of "Army", so I brought a couple friends to whom I had introduced Ben's music. They love it and they were quite excited, but I think they would agree afterwords that it "felt more like 'An Evening With Ben Folds' than a rock concert." As a long time Folds fan, I found it entirely satisfying (althogh in a perfect world it would have gone to 2 AM and have included "Fired", "Cologne", "The Last Polka", "Best Imitation of Myself", "Dr. Yang", and, of course, "Rock This Bitch" (Seriously, why didn't he play Dr. Yang?). Nevertheless, I was absolutely thrilled and I think it was a fun experience for everyone (although my friend said the best part of her night was the tall guy who stood near us and said "I think this is my song" when Ben played "Landed". Seriously dude, if you happen to be reading this, she would like to meet you.) If there was a dissapointment of the night, it was waiting outside Ben's tour bus for half an hour to no avail. Although we did make some really nice drunk friends.

P.S. Someone PLEASE tell me if Merton actually is Ben Folds.

Full Disclosure: I'm a huge fan and have been for years.

I think Ben was f'n awesome. I'm 28 and have seen him a bunch of times over the past decade or so, with Ben Folds Five and solo, and he never fails to deliver. I think he was fantastic on Wednesday and I love how much he interacts with the audience.

I also agree with Dev. I think that the set list was fairly eclectic and, also, would have totally been happy if he played longer, but c'est la vie. (I also missed "Dr. Yang" & "The Last Polka," Dev. But the list of awesome songs he could have played go on forever).

I thought the Chatroulette bit was HILARIOUS, personally. I'm sorry if you brought your kids and he offended them and yourself, but if you had researched his track record prior to buying the tickets, you'd see he doesn't really ever censor himself in general.

PS - I think it should be mentioned that his opener, Zach Williams, was pretty good, too! I had no idea who he was previously and it's always nice when the opener doesn't suck.

I thought the show was one of his best yet. He is extremely entertaining. Cant wait for him to come back to town!

disagree. i have way more fun at the "with a piano" shows, than i do when he has a full band backing him. i enjoy seeing a fairly large rock star doing very intimate shows like this, and most of, if not all of his material sounds better by itself with the piano alone. it's doing the crowd chorus's in "Not the same" and "Army" that make me love seeing him play like that.

We were up on the first balcony and I had an awful time understanding the lyrics.

I was the reluctant one, unfamiliar with the songs.

It was fine, but I won't be rushing out to buy any of his music.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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