Early Saturday afternoon, people began to line up outside of Lund Arena to see Ben Folds. By the time I got my spot in line, it was already wrapped around three flags and headed towards Complex. When the line began to move, I grew giddy with anticipation.
At 8:00 p.m. on the dot, the opening act—Ari Herstand—came on stage. Herstand is a Minneapolis musician of local fame, and was the replacement for the original opener, Ben Lee, who couldn’t make it due to scheduling issues. Herstand is a one-man band who loops and layers guitar, trumpet, vocals and beat-boxing during his live shows.
Initially, this was a pretty cool mixture but after a while it started to come off as a cheap novelty. Following his first two or three songs, Herstand sat down at the keyboard and began to play one of the most overly sentimental love songs this side of The Fray. He saved face a little bit by pulling out a cover of “Wonderwall,” to which the crowd immediately responded, and by whipping out some gnarly Andy McKee-esque slap-guitar grooves on his last tune. The man did his best during his forty-minute set to get the crowd excited, praising Ben Folds between nearly every song and citing him as a personal influence.
At 9:00 p.m. sharp (I have never seen such a rigidly scheduled show), the lights again dimmed and Mr. Folds emerged flaunting a Gustavus t-shirt. He immediately busted into a new song from his recently recorded album. We were incredibly lucky to hear several brand new songs from his forthcoming record. “Hiroshima,” which is lyrically based on Folds’ experience falling off the stage at a show in Japan (and the concussion that followed), is a great pop song and will most likely be a hit. Perhaps my favorite of the new batch was a song called “Free Coffee.” This was a heavy synth-laden track, accompanied with some twangy piano sounds that Folds created by putting aluminum Altoids cases on his piano strings.
Folds played a phenomenal mix of songs from past, present and future albums. Those from the years of Ben Folds Five, like “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces” and “Philosophy,” were crowd-pleasing reminders of Folds’ (as well as his listeners’) pasts. But the crowd responded best to tracks from Folds’ more recent records. “Landed,” “Zak and Sara” and especially “Rockin’ the Suburbs” elicited the most physical responses, although I’m still not convinced that it’s “possible for all white boys to dance,” because I most definitely cannot.
It would have been difficult not to get involved in the show, even for those who hadn’t heard much of Ben Folds’ material before. Folds has one of the greatest audience connections of any present-day performer. From witty asides in between songs to calls for audience participation, Folds knows how to play to a crowd. Nearly every person in the house sang the harmonies of “Not the Same” and shouted the vulgar lyrics of “Bitches Ain’t Shit.” The audience also loved the periodic appearances of Folds’ golden-haired tambourine man, who came out during a handful of songs, sometimes to shake his instrument for only five seconds.
The sound was good, considering the arena venue. It could very easily have sounded awful, but it didn’t. Folds’ drummer and bassist filled their respective roles perfectly by playing their instruments well and not stealing the spotlight. The bassist’s t-shirt did draw my attention, though. Wearing a shirt with Satan on it is a brave, albeit hilarious, move when playing at a Lutheran college.
Folds played for an hour-and-a-half straight and then came back for a fifteen-minute encore. It was more than worth the ten-dollar price of admission. He gave everything he had and by the end of the show had completely soaked through his Gustavus t-shirt with sweat. It was a great performance and I thank the Lord that we got Ben Folds instead of Dashboard Confessional.
Photo Courtesy of: Melissa Lee