Review: Ben Folds and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

October 27, 2011
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The stranger next to me at the Ben Folds-meets-the-Indianapolis-Symphony-Orchestra pops concert Oct. 26 was clearly a serious Folds fan.

In some cases, this would be annoying. But here, with Folds' vocals not always effectively mixed with the piano and orchestra, she unknowingly served as a kind of simultanious translator for me, a Folds neophyte.

Lucky for me she also had a decent voice.

The affable Folds (who , from the mezzanine, resembled a Dana Carvey character)  kicked things off with "Zak & Sara" and "Effington," with his legs characteristically spread wide as he attacked the piano. The ISO and the small choir effectively blended with Folds musically here and seemed to hit stride when the cellos kicked in beautifully on "Smoke." 

The combination of talents was less effective on "Ascent of Stan," where the lyrics seemed to fight the power of the music. The momentum was back, though, with "Jesusland" and a newer Folds colalboration with Nick Hornby, "Lonely Avenue"--although the subtlety of the muffled lyrics were, again, lost on the uninitiated.

Good stories, good songs, and big, gutsy arrangements followed, with the ISO swinging like the best '60s TV orchestra you ever saw on "Steven's Last Night." Audience harmonies further brought the room together for "Not the Same."

Folds took some time out from the tunes to make an effective contrast between politicians in Washington not getting stuff done and orchestra players coming together to balance their talents and create something strong.  And kudos to him for encouraging his fans to come see the Symphony even when he isn't frontman. The fans later responded with a generous ovation for Jack Everly and his players. 

There was more music then there were symphonic orchestrations, though, and so Folds dismissed the players after about an hour and twenty minutes and held the stage alone for some audience-suggested favorites.

Thunderous, sincere applause brought Folds to the stage again after some lengthy backstage time. In what seemed like genuinely spontanious play, he took kid-in-a-candy-store glee in sampling most of the instruments in the abandoned percussion section of the orchestra, playing "Tubular Bells" and a few notes from "The Nutcracker" before rejoining his center stage piano for a climactic "Rockin the Suburbs."

Your thoughts? 

  • New Experience
    This was my fifth time seeing Ben Folds in concert, but my first with an orchestra. Being a big fan (obviously), I knew some of his songs would hit the mark in collaboration with an orchestra and some would not. I agree, some of his vocals (and the choir) were overpowered by the orchestra. Still, it was a wonderful concert and I really thought the orchestra was great! It was a much more laid back vibe last night than most of his concerts, but it what a cool way to experience Ben Folds' music.

    P.S. Folds' collaboration with one of my top five desert island favorite authors Nick Hornby is genius! (You'll get that reference if you're a Hornby fan.)
    • Hornby
    • Great Review
      You hit it on the mark! As a fan of both Ben Folds and the ISO, it was such a treat to see the two of them together. And how fun to see some of the ISO patrons mixed in with Folds fans! It seemed like everyone was entertained, no matter your reason for buying a ticket.
    • Ben Folds Extras
      I'm loving his "Best Imitation of Myself," there are some really great live tracks on it. Totally check out this interview, Ben talks about his song "House"
    • My thoughts
      As an avid Folds fan (I've seen him live well north of a dozen times: Solo, with a backing band, and with the Ft Wayne Philharmonic), I loved the show.

      That said, the point of an opening act is to make sure the sound or acoustics or whatever are configured so it all sounds good. There was no "opening". In contrast, when I saw Folds with the Ft Wayne Philharmonic, the orchestra did a 10 minute or so opening set of a medley of popular tunes, mostly classic rock. I think some of that might've helped the sound issues that affected the first two songs.

      I think it came together with "Smoke". I know The Star's Linquist thought "200 Dwarfs" was overpowering with the orchestra, but that kind of happens whenever you have any type of backing band. That song rocks hard.

      Folds solo set was excellent as usual.

      One thing I'm starting to notice since I started seeing Folds back in...2003 or so. He just has so many albums and fan favorites that it's becoming increasingly difficult to fit them all into a set.

      I also thought it was interesting there was only one song from the album he did with Nick Hornby, his latest.

      I was very impressed with the addition to a choir. They really added to the songs that needed some backup vocals.

      I also found the line in "Effington" quite appropriate for us Hoosiers at the moment: If there's a god, he is laughing at us and our football team.
    • Excellent show!
      I am a long-time fan of both the ISO and Ben Folds, so I bought tickets for this within 5 minutes of them going on sale (as apparently many others did!) Needless to say, I was NOT disappointed. The arrangements were interesting, innovative and for the short amount of rehearsal time they, both Folds and the orchestra seemed to really nail them. I really loved every one. Still, the best part of the night was probably during the encore, sans orchestra, when the whole audience gleefully jumped on Folds' offer to scream obscenities in "Rockin' the Suburbs"- never thought I would hear that in Hilbert Circle! I only wish it could have gone on longer, and I really hope he comes back to do it again soon :)
    • Ben Folds
      this sounds like a great show, I've always been a big Ben Folds fan and I was so excited to hear his new album The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective, here's a cool video to check out of him talking about Brick
    • Sooo good!
      I freaking love Ben Fols, and this retrospective record is an amazing compilation of great tunes. Really stoked!

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