MONTCLAIR, NJ—Ben Folds brought his Lonely Avenue Tour to Seymour Street in his former stomping grounds of Montclair, NJ on a cool Thursday night. And stomp on those grounds he did—as well as on his piano, Montclair’s 11 p.m. curfew and anyone with virgin ears. I’ve never heard someone use profanity so gracefully and nonchalantly, all while vocally harmonizing with the four other members of his band. Although, at times, the concert had the atmosphere of a three-ring circus, Ben Folds and his band’s musical talent reassured me where I was.
The night was a feel-good one. Folds plays the piano as naturally as you and I breathe. Each member of the band sings, and the harmonies that they create are stunning. Even though they don’t have or pretend to have that “rock star” attitude, the band ended the night in true rock star fashion by thrashing on their instruments. The acoustic guitar player smashed a tambourine on a cymbal and threw the pieces at the drummer while Folds smashed his keys and threw his stool at the piano.
Folds crammed more than two dozen songs into two hours, even with his piano’s sustain pedal breaking twice. He took these technical difficulties in stride, singing about his experiences living in Montclair, in a hot, sweaty apartment practicing lines for a play which he described as “way off Broadway.” The second time the pedal broke during “Lullabye,” he got up and started to jam on his band mate’s drums. The band came out and joined him for an improv session, where Folds picked up the bass guitar and showcased his skills as a multi-instrumentalist.
Two of the more memorable numbers of the night were covers of Dr. Dre’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit” and Ke$ha’s “Sleazy.” During his Dre cover (which he played at the request of a fan he dubbed “the Karate Kid”) he again rallied the locals behind him by inserting “Bitches can’t hang with the mean streets of Montclair, Verona, Clifton and Essex.” A few weeks ago, Folds decided that whatever was number one on iTunes Top 40 was what he was going to cover—and “Sleazy” it was. Both were hilarious, and I do point you to YouTube to check them out.
The audience was treated to songs reaching back to the Ben Folds Five days, including “Underground” and “Kate.” The set spanned Ben Folds’ entire 15-year career making a stop at just about each album, with emphasis on Lonely Avenue. When the band re-entered for their encore, they played a ridiculously up-tempo version of “One Angry Dwarf And 200 Solemn Faces” in a-minute-and-a-half, in order to finish before Montclair’s 11 p.m. curfew.
Although I have only been following Folds’ music for about the past 10 years, and wasn’t familiar with many of the songs he played, I thoroughly enjoyed the show. It’s hard to place Folds in a genre, and I think that’s what makes his music great. Some of his songs, such as “Still Fighting,” are more serious but his prevailing tone seems more satirical or just plain witty. The song “Effington” opens with lyrics “…I’m wondering are they effing in their yards, effing in their cars, effing in the trailers and the back roads and the parking lots of Effington.”
It was especially cool that he interwove Montclair and its surrounds into his songs and performance, but most of all I know that after this show I will be sporting plenty more Ben Folds tracks on my iPod.