Ben Folds thrills Hill Auditorium fans with energetic benefit concert
If Ben Folds was really faking his way through his performance at Hill Auditorium on Thursday, as he more or less admitted he was, probably every band in the nation should cancel next week’s rehearsal.
Because winging it seems to be the way to fans’ hearts.
Loose and lively, funny and smart, Folds delivered a powerhouse, 90-minute set featuring just himself and Hill’s Steinway, capitalizing on the singer-songwriter’s charm, while showcasing his inventive and engaging tunes.
Folds was quick to point out that he’s a little rusty performing as a solo act, having recently been on tour with his band, Ben Folds Five, and, more recently, not performing at all.
“I’ve been in a cave composing a piano concerto—that’s hard,” he said. ‘I’m not accustomed to seeing people.”
Folds' performance was a benefit for MUSIC Matters (Michigan Undergrads Serving In the Community), a student organization at the U-M whose mission is to offer a yearly concert on campus, with the proceeds donated to charity.
With the money raised from Thursday’s show, MUSIC Matters will endow one of the first-ever student-funded scholarships at the U-M, said Phillip Schermer, MUSIC Matters founder and president.
On Thursday, Folds used his relative rustiness to his advantage, seizing the opportunity to play requests for several older songs without the pressure to nail the performances.
“I’ve had requests to play some songs that I haven’t played in years and years and years and years and years” he said. “But thanks to lyrics.com, I can play them for you.
“And thanks to other websites I can tell you their meanings.”
Folds then lurched through a selection of his classic material, including “Still,” “Losing Lisa” and “Landed,” as well as standards like “Brick” and “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” each a mini-opera of surprising lyrical twists and turns.
There were some mistakes, and he stumbled over his own lyrics at times. But the overall impact was one of a performer enough at ease with his songs to find their essences, even if some of the details get lost along the way.
The mistakes even lengthened the show, as Folds added numbers to make up for his gaffes.
“Two or three mistakes is OK unless you’re Van Cliburn,” he said. “But more than three and it’s not good.”
One place Folds is never at a loss is behind the piano. He’s a gifted stylist and on Thursday, he wandered effortlessly from barrelhouse jazz to classical grandeur, even in the course of a single song. And Hill’s venerable Steinway has perhaps never sounded better during a pop concert than it did on Thursday.