Ben Folds with WASO, Sunday 27 August 2006

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How do you summon up the courage to give one of your favourite recording artists a bad review?

It has taken me 2 weeks to gather my thoughts enough to write this review, because frankly, out of the many times I have seen and heard Ben Folds live, this was by far the worst. That being said, like “The Simpsons”, even the very worst of Ben Folds is better than most other things.

So, I guess it wasn’t awful. It was… adequate. But in my opinion, when you are an artist and your work is supposed to move and inspire people who have an emotional connection to your music, adequate just isn’t good enough. That’s what Australian Idol is for. But for Ben Folds, one of the greatest artists around at the moment, ordinary is worse than awful.

There are a couple of reasons why this was ordinary, and occasionally embarrassing.

The first reason that is most apparent is that the setlist was almost identical to the Kings Park setlist from the year before. So, for those that attended that concert, and anyone who bought the DVD of the concert, would have been pretty familiar with it. I almost got a sense that they did these concerts to capitalise on the popularity of the last concert and saw it as easy money for little effort. He opened with “Zak and Sara” and closed with “The Luckiest”. Again. And my God I wish he’d drop “Brick”. It’s just getting sad. I very nearly dozed off mid performance, it was that lacklustre. And he didn’t perform many new songs. Including “Landed”. Why keep “Brick” and ditch “Landed”? I have NO idea.

The second major problem here, and maybe I am too harsh and don’t understand the complexities of orchestral arrangment, but I thought that the arrangement was severely lacking, and sometimes, downright awful. Ben kept talking about how fabulous the WASO arrangers are, but I thought it was average at best. I kept expecting percussion where there wasnt any, bass where there wasn’t any, and things came in at strange times in my opinion. However, there were a couple of songs that were absolutely BITCHIN’: “Jesusland” (my favourite song) was intense and did the song justice. “Mess” was beautiful as was “Narcolepsy” and “Fred Jones Part II”. But there were also too many *yawn* moments for a concert that was supposed to be a spectacular marriage between an orchestra and Ben Folds. The aforementioned “Brick” performance, seriously died a slow death. It was painful. Philosophy: Old school but boring. “Smoke”: Boring. “One Angry Dwarf”: clichéd and noticeably lacking Darren and Rob.

In my opinion, the best parts of the show were when Ben was playing WITHOUT the orchestra. He just doesn’t need it. We saw him at the Regal for “Ben Folds and a Piano” and I found myself just wishing we were at that show again, except with him playing more from Songs for Silverman. But that wasn’t to be.

Now let me digress for one minute to talk about audience interaction. Ben, if you ever read this, please, for the love of God, DROP THE AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION IN NOT THE SAME. It was great in 2001. It was great in 2002. It was fun in 2003. It was getting old in 2005. But in 2006, with a seasoned fan who has seen and heard it 17 times, please, find something else.

The highlight of the show was his song he wrote about Perth “the most isolated place on earth, 800 miles or more, across the Nullabor” — and somehow ending it with “its not the length, it’s the girth” to rhyme with Perth… Ben, at his finest, and I was briefly reminded why I love him.

There was one part of the concert that made it worthwhile, and that was when the oldies who had paid to see WASO walked out of the concert when Ben yelled “You’d better look out because I’m gonna say Fuck!”. Nothing makes a concert or show funnier than when people walk out in disgust at…oh no…DIRTY WORDS!

After the concert, Jason and I were sitting in the car, both a bit uneasy about the whole thing. I hadn’t paid for my tickets because I was a “VIP” and had 4 tickets given to me by Ben’s management. We were so excited about the whole thing that there was a bit of pressure to also love the show. Shit, we got the tickets for free for our favourite artist! So we sat in the car, uneasy, kinda afraid to say what we thought. Jason, being Jason, came straight out with it and said “well, I’m, glad we didn’t PAY!”

I agreed with him, took some time to process the experience and the word we came up with to describe it was “good enough, but very lazy”. Lazy was the only word I could think of to describe it — like there was no point of difference between this show and the Kings Park show — and was in many ways inferior to Ben on his own. The arrangements were awkward. There was very little new stuff. And the audience interaction stuff was laboured, old and, well, corny.

My standards are high. My standards are particularly high for Ben Folds because I know, and have seen, what he is capable of. He can make you laugh hysterically and cry like a baby. He can move you with a phrase or a keychange in ways that very few musicians can. He inspires me to play piano and keep at it even when it gets difficult. And yet this whole concert seemed like a complete waste of time. Ben seemed tired, like he wanted to be anywhere except the Concert Hall. Much like the rest of us.

I will still buy everything that Ben Folds makes. I love him. I will also continue to go to his concerts. But that was a complete and utter disaster from the sound to the setlist to the arrangement. I know Ben can do better, and he will. And for that I will forgive him.

I also expect that WASO will cling to Ben Folds like poo on a a sheep’s arse, but I hope that this doesn’t mean that we will only see Ben when he’s with them. In the meantime, I will keep my CDs going, and hope for a proper concert where Ben showcases his recent work.

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