Ben Folds feat. the Houston Symphony Jones Hall June 14, 2014
Ben Folds grew up playing in symphony orchestras. Specifically, and perhaps surprisingly given his prowess on the piano, his background was that of a percussionist.
Saturday night, he returned to his roots with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, blending together upper-crust musicianship and instrumentation with the kind of informal atmosphere his concerts have become known for.
Unreservedly, he likened his own performance to a wet T-shirt night, shamelessly admitting that his objective was to put young butts in seats at Jones Hall.
"We need the symphony orchestra more than the symphony orchestra needs us," Folds said. "And if you need proof, go to any city in the country, or in the world, that doesn't have a proper symphony orchestra and check it out...that place is crap."
Raucous laughter and applause followed, having endured for most of the evening and barely pausing long enough for Folds and crew to even begin and end their songs. And members of the orchestra were laughing just as hard and loudly as the crowd.
Perhaps hitting a little too close to home for any Texans fans in attendance (cough), the night began with "Effington" as the choir sang, "If there is a God, he is laughing at us and our football team."
Folds later introduced "Picture Window" by acknowledging its cowriter, British novelist Nick Hornby, and even regaled the crowd with an anecdote about taking too much codeine in Berlin and the hilarious effects on his performance there.
"Look it up," he told the crowd. "It's on YouTube."
Just before intermission, Folds and the symphony performed the second and third parts of a piano concerto he had written.
"I've been studying these things, and they're amazing pieces," Folds said of concertos, "but they're the only form of music I can find that have these compositional holes... But the holes are filled with 'Damn, I'm good.'"
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Before performing the pieces, he explained to the crowd that clapping in between the two parts would garner disapproving stares from sophisticated attendees. Put bluntly, "people will look at you like you're an idiot." So when the first movement ended, Conductor Lucas Waldin promptly spun around, turning his back to the orchestra and leaning down right in Folds' face, where he began to clap loudly.
"I'm trying as hard as I can not to look at that," Folds said, shrugging toward the screen at the top corner of the stage. "I don't watch TV much, but if there's a TV in the room I can't help but look at it, and it makes me look stupid.
"You could put the World Cup on up there," he continued. "We could make this the Houston Symphony Orchestra and Sports Bar."
Near the end of the evening, while discussing the importance of the orchestra for a city's culture, Folds told the crowd what the symphony meant to him as a person and as a musician.
"It instilled in me an idea of people working together," he said. "This is the manifestation of people working together in concert...and I'm a fan of civilization, civilization being built on people working together."
Folds may have broken away on his own some time ago, occasionally reuniting with his band to the delight of adoring fans, but he proved beyond any doubt Saturday night that the sense of camaraderie he learned through the symphony is still well intact.
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