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Review: Ben Folds and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

October 27, 2011

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."

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