Capable of Anything: Ben Folds & the KC Symphony live 03/11/17
Just sticking a symphony with a performer doesn’t always yield the best results. For every “The Wall: Live in Berlin” from Roger Waters and “Concerto for Group and Orchestra” by Deep Purple – albums that deeply incorporate symphonic elements without overpowering the original music – there’s “S&M” from Metallica or some god-awful Kiss symphonic mess – which sounds more like playing 2 different albums at the same time. Luckily, the eclectic Ben Folds recruited the Kansas City symphony, led by conductor Jason Seber, to blend their sounds with his over two decades worth of piano pop rock to create an effective and memorable 2 hour set at the Kauffman Center on Saturday night.
Ben Folds has been perfecting his craft since the late 80s, most notably with alternative piano rock trio Ben Folds Five and his solo career that has attracted the likes of William Shatner, Nick Hornsby, Regina Spektor and Amanda Palmer to work with him in one capacity or another. With almost a dozen albums and countless unreleased material, picking the best songs to compliment a symphonic accompaniment seems like a daunting task – but for the most part it worked brilliantly.
With a member of the symphony crooning “If there’s a God/He’s laughing at us/And our football team” from Effington off Folds’ third proper album Way to Normal, Ben Folds and co. ran through a fairly straight-forward, career-spanning setlist with a few surprises. The crowd had the strongest reaction to Folds’ most well-known tunes like Zak & Sara, Landed and You Don’t Know Me – originally featuring Regina Spektor on backing vocals, replaced by enthusiastic crowd sing-alongs. Speaking of crowd interactions – Ben Folds is still one of best and involving his audience in his music. Whether it’s providing the melody for the song Not the Same or clapping with Steven’s Last Night in Town, a Ben Folds show seems more like an event than ever before – even with a symphony backing him up.
The Ben Folds concert staple of a crowd member shouting out “Rock this bitch!” was also present, prompting Folds to improvise a song right then and there – however with a symphony as his backing band, he intricately created an original melody moving from instrument to instrument until almost every member was playing a melody while Ben made-up lyrics about how a “sports event” brought out drunk people to Kansas City. Although this happens at every Ben Folds show and he crafts an original song each night, the inclusion of the orchestral instruments made this night’s version much more than just a throwaway jingle.
If there is any disappointment from the night’s performance – and if we’re being really picky – some of Folds’ songs came across as not intertwining the symphony into its core music as well as others. Ben Folds Five’s monster hit Brick is lonely, crushing and hauntingly beautiful on its own, but the additional instrumentation didn’t really add anything positive (or negative, for that matter) to the composition. Other than that, the symphony really added a suave element to the whole set that only served to better the songs – Steven’s Last Night in Town and set-closer Theme from “Dr. Pyser” were made for orchestral accompaniment.
With an intermission and a speech pleading to the audience to continue supporting their local symphony and arts, Ben Folds clocked in at just under 2 hours and 18 songs. While there’s certainly a case to be made for only seeing Ben Folds in college town with raging drunk sing alongs, his performance with the Kansas City Symphony showcased just how strong a songwriter and storyteller he is.
- So There
- Capable of Anything
- You Don’t Know Me
- Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Movement 2
- Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Movement 3
- Zak & Sara
- Rock This Bitch
- Picture Window
- Steven’s Last Night In Town
- Not the Same
- One Angry Dwarf & 200 Solemn Faces
- The Luckiest
- Dr. Pyser