Concert review: Ben Folds delights a sold-out Pageant, Sunday, January 30

Ben Folds at the Pageant

Nate Burrell

It was a packed house on Sunday evening, and for those who are prone to showing up fashionably late, you may have missed the opening number. Ben Folds and his band came out promptly before the 9 o’ clock hour even struck. They hit the stage with the enthusiasm of a high school football squad breaking through the team banner, parading around the stage with their fists in the air, doing push-ups and jumping around the drum riser in tongue-in-cheek mock enthusiasm. The moment was goofy, playful and silly — themes that would resonate throughout the duration of their 2-and-a-half hour performance at the Pageant.

The crowd laughed and cheered, the antics concluding with Ben Folds shaking his butt at the audience and then repeatedly bouncing his piano stool against the keys of his Baldwin like a circus performer.

This was trademark Ben Folds: not taking himself too seriously and infusing a good dose of humor into the night. After working out a bit more of his spastic energy, Ben took a seat at the piano with his backing band in tow — a drummer, bassist, acoustic guitarist/percussionist and a keyboardist/horn player — and began what would be an often entertaining, relentlessly enthusiastic evening that spanned 20+ songs.

Things began with “Levi Johnston’s Blues” and “Doc Pomus” off the new record, Lonely Avenue. The band was tight as was to be expected with a veteran performer of Ben Fold’s caliber, though the energy that their introduction incited did seem to wane substantially with the choice of opening songs. This ebb-and-flow of energy seemed consistent throughout the evening as there were several changes in the show’s format.

The array of emotions was quite varied during the first half of the show, from the silly absurdity of the band’s cover of Ke$ha’s “Sleazy” to the heartfelt and touching performance of “Cologne”. As the show picked up pace and finally settled in, things suddenly came to a screeching halt. For 10-15 minutes—though it felt much longer—Ben Folds directed the crowd with video cameras and sing-a-long instructions for a YouTube video they produce for each of their shows.

The crowd participated and were mostly willing and enthusiastic participants, even chiding a few potential hecklers who seemed restless at the interruption.

After the prolonged delay, things kicked back in full-swing with an energetic performance of the upbeat tune “Effington.”

This energy didn’t last long, however, as the band left the stage and Ben launched into a handful of low-key solo numbers. Most of the songs were old requests of Ben Folds Five songs and were well-received by the audience. It was a strange shift in mood, though, with this start-and-stop sort of energy, which ultimately prevented the show from ever really finding one consistent flow.

After a handful of songs featuring just Ben and his piano, the band reformed and they launched right into “Annie Waits.” This was an obvious crowd favorite that gave those in attendance a chance to unleash some of their pent up excitement as much dancing ensued. The show hit a nice peak as a pleasing trio of high-energy songs followed including “Hiroshima,” “Zak and Sara,” and “You Don’t Know Me.”

It was a delightful evening for Ben Folds fanatics and the crowd seemed pleased to the end (the show ended with a two song encore of “Philosophy” and “Kate”). It was a diverse crowd on hand of all ages, though the appeal of Ben Folds to the evasive yet lucrative frat boy market was surprising.

Ben Folds brought to St. Louis a refreshing change of pace from the seriousness and brooding of much modern music, and he did so with the casual delivery of a seasoned veteran.