Ben Folds Swaps Flood Stories, Paper Airplanes With Happy Houston Crowd
Photo by Jason McElweenie

Ben Folds Swaps Flood Stories, Paper Airplanes With Happy Houston Crowd

Ben Folds
House of Blues
September 14, 2017

Thanks to Ben Folds, we now know that another way to escape floods and the damage they do is by paper plane. After "Phone In a Pool," the opening song to a remarkable solo set last night at House of Blues, Folds thanked the crowd for attending. A deluge of floodwaters tends to dampen spirits, but he sensed early in the evening that we're regaining our footing after Harvey. Folds's audience proved it all night by singing along heartily to some of his biggest hits and by challenging him to recall some lesser-played songs from his long career.

"Floods are nasty. I lost my favorite piano in a flood," he said, and shared how he, a native of North Carolina, is quite familiar with hurricanes and the havoc they wreak. He told us about the flood that destroyed his prized piano and wrapped his story by donating his performance fee for the night to the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund. Then he offered a near-apology for launching into a flood tale in the first place.

"I know you didn't come here to hear that shit," he said. Then, mimicking a fellow Southerner, he said, "That's all I'm gonna say about floods, Jen-nay."

The rest of the night was an incredible mix of music, a run of two dozen songs in which Folds performed a routine set list the first half of the night, then took "an old-fashioned intermission." During that downtime, audience members were invited to jot down a song request on paper provided, fold that paper into a paper airplane and, on Folds's return, launch their requests onto the stage. We created the playlist for the second half of the show.

Ben Folds Swaps Flood Stories, Paper Airplanes With Happy Houston Crowd
Photo by Jason McElweenie

In 36 years of attending concerts, I personally have never seen anything like this, but that's what endears Folds to fans. He's got the chops to perform audience requests night after night on an extended tour, and also the desire to do so. Many performers are pressed to even recall which city they're playing in from one stop to the next. Folds found a way to connect with us on an even higher plane than the customary concert patter, at which he also excels. With no backing band or extravagant bells and whistles, Folds's ingenuity created something memorable, a show that took crowd engagement to new heights.

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Selected by Folds or the crowd, it didn't matter, the music was delivered by a masterful entertainer. Getting to see him solo spotlighted Folds's skillful playing. He possesses an entire band in two hands and 88 keys. Standouts from the first half of the show were "Annie Waits," "Landed" and "You Don't Know Me," which featured many of the women in the audience singing every note Regina Spektor sings on the track. Occasionally, Folds would let the singing surge loud enough to leave his piano and conduct the vocals from the edge of the stage. He called Houston "a formidable opponent" when the first request he plucked was "Bruised" from his collaboration with Ben Kweller and Ben Lee called, appropriately, The Bens.

"Houston 2, Folds 0," he said when the deep cut, "Draw a Crowd," sent him to a songbook atop his piano. We requested all-time favorites, too, like "Rockin' the Suburbs" (featuring Folds on beatbox), "Effington" and "Zak and Sara."

Ben Folds Swaps Flood Stories, Paper Airplanes With Happy Houston Crowd
Photo by Jason McElweenie

Personal Bias: Before the show, my wife and I cheated like Brian Cushing and created ornate paper planes with intricate designs to thrust onto the stage and into Folds's magical hands. Our request was "The Luckiest," arguably Folds's most romantic composition. We considered "Still Fighting It" and "Gracie" too, but in the end decided to both request "The Luckiest" to increase our odds. My wife designed her plane like a NASA aeronautics engineer and it sailed onto the stage with ease. My plane plummeted like Icarus on a sunny day. In the end, Folds never chose ours from the heaps that collected onstage, but he played "The Luckiest" (and "Still Fighting It") anyhow. When the show was over, a House of Blues employee push-broomed the remnants onto the venue's floor and we nabbed our planes for posterity's sake.

The Crowd: Eager choral students and fast learners of four-part counterpoint. Also, bros shouting out "The Bitch Went Nuts!"

Overheard In the Crowd: "Deshaun Watson just ran for a 49-yard touchdown!"

— Ben Folds/Houston Texans fan balancing his allegiances during an intermission

"Y'all get your love on."

— Couple passing through the crowd when Folds began "The Luckiest"

"Do you want a set list?"

— House of Blues staffer handing a fan a paper plane from the pile after the show

Random Notebook Dump:

Shoutout to Ben Folds superfan Laura Stewart Joyce, who had four tickets to last night's show but, at the last minute, had to cancel her plans to attend. "Don't think I'm cray cray," she wrote on Facebook, "but I like Ben Folds' music so much I'm willing to just give these away to someone who really wants to go." And that's what she did, transferring all four tickets to three different music lovers who enjoyed the evening and, in turn, sent Joyce photos from the show. That's a true love of music right there, y'all. Way to spread the love, Laura.

Ben Folds Swaps Flood Stories, Paper Airplanes With Happy Houston Crowd
Photo by Jason McElweenie

Set List
Phone In a Pool
Annie Waits
Uncle Walter
Still Fighting It
So There
Not a Fan
Capable of Anything
You Don't Know Me
Steven's Last Night In Town

Paper Airplane Request Set
Bitches Ain't Shit (Dr. Dre cover)
Not the Same
Rockin' the Suburbs
Zak and Sara
Draw a Crowd
Tiny Dancer (Elton John cover)
Inbetween Days (The Cure cover)
The Luckiest

One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces

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