Ben Folds is a funny man. If there was a single soul in attendance on Monday night who might have been catching him on stage for the first time, Folds certainly didn’t disappoint when it came to demonstrating his penchant for laidback humor.
Bearded and bespectacled, Folds took the stage in a button-down and tie, and looked almost professorial — he even commented that his outfit choice was his version of an homage to Charleston’s love of seersucker. Folds launched into his third song, “I’m Not a Fan,” of what was to be a 17-song set, with the following explanation: “This song is about when you start to date someone, and you like everything about them, but their taste in music … really sucks, and you’re like, ‘You really listen to Ben Folds?’” And from that point onward, it was pretty much Folds’ time to shine as the astute comedian his long-time fans know him to be.
All jokes aside – what was so apparent on Monday night, after many years performing in front of international crowds and many albums with a repertoire of songs that run the gamut from funny to beautifully heartbreaking, is this undeniable fact: Folds is an enduring talent. It might have been the seven-piece orchestra, yMusic, who joined him on stage, that helped make that fact so abundantly clear, but the man has never sounded better.
Folds played mostly songs from his new album, So There (2015), for the first half of the show, stopping in between gems such as “Effington” and “Phone in a Pool” to pretty much do what amounted to hanging out and chatting with his audience. Folds even commented at one point that he’d been getting dangerously chatty and relaxed during his shows the longer the tour went on.
For anyone who came to hear the old stuff, Folds made sure to throw in “Song for the Dumped” and “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” both of which sounded just as fantastic with a backing orchestra (who would have thought?) as they’ve sounded in the past when he’s played live with a full band. He also threw in “Jesusland” from 2005’s Songs for Silverman, which was so beautiful it nearly brought tears to a few audience members’ eyes, and “Army,” from the classic Ben Folds Five album The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner (1999).
The kicker came at the end when Folds and company played a crazy-energetic rendition of “Steven’s Last Night in Town,” a song that really served to showcase the musical prowess of every person on stage, and also featured a mind-blowing clarinet solo from yMusic’s Hideaki Aomori .
Folds has played various venues in Charleston for a number of years now, yet even though he’s nearly 50 years old, on Monday night he was no different than the man he was when he played Charleston in 2002: full of wit, charm, and incredible — incredible — talent.