Ben Folds, yMusic
Cullen Performance Hall, University of Houston
April 16, 2016
For the first ten minutes of Ben Folds’s performance at Cullen Performance Hall Saturday night, the singer-songwriter was nowhere to be found. His piano sat empty in the center of the stage as yMusic, the sextet with whom he recorded last year’s So There, performed “Beautiful Mechanical,” the first track off their 2011 album of the same name.
It was whimsical – subdued in the beginning before building and then building some more, only to recoil and repeat. When the song ended, as the crowd was applauding, Folds finally emerged from the shadows.
Together, Folds and yMusic began their performance with three cuts off their collaborate album – “So There,” “Long Way to Go” and “Not a Fan.” In between songs, the background lighting slowly shifted between colors – from red to orange to yellow – as if orchestrated by James Turrell.
Folds then took a moment to address the crowd. He commended the food at Underbelly, where he and yMusic had eaten earlier in the day, before asking if vegetables even exist in Texas.
Later, when a concertgoer shouted “Freebiiiiiirrd!” Folds performed the intro, replacing the opening lyrics with an ode to Underbelly and his inability to defecate before abruptly ending the song altogether.
The second half of Folds’s performance was especially well received. It included six songs from his days in Ben Folds Five, “Rock This Bitch” and “You Don’t Know Me,” with yMusic’s Alex Sopp singing Regina Spektor’s verses.
As Houston crowds are unfortunately wont to be, a number of those in attendance Saturday night acted obnoxiously – talking through the lesser-known songs and shouting at the singer-songwriter when he was trying to talk.
But Folds, who is surely no stranger to hecklers and rowdy fans, played it off and held the crowd to a dull roar for most of the show. He even encouraged their participation near the end of his performance, enticing the crowd to provide harmonies during “Not the Same.”
Much like his performance with the Houston Symphony Orchestra in 2014, Folds’s performance was a combination of professional musicianship and irreverent wit, which kept fans cheering and laughing for the entire set.
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Had the fans been a little quieter when they were supposed to be, it would have been a perfect evening.
Beautiful Mechanical (yMusic)
Long Way to Go
Not a Fan
My Philosophy (improvisation)
Free Bird (improvisation)
I’m Not the Man
Phone in a Pool
Music in Circles (yMusic)
Song for the Dumped
Capable of Anything
Rock this Bitch
Steven’s Last Night in Town
You Don’t Know Me
Not the Same