This blog is slowly catching up on gigs, but I’m still a few behind – this time I’m doing my best to recall Ben Folds with yMusic at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. Yes, notes were taken on the night to help!
I’d seen him once before, as the leader of Ben Folds Five at Dingwalls in Camden way back in November 1996, at a time when they had only released their eponymous debut album. I’d managed to keep up with them until they split after their third record in 2000.
As I knew I was coming to this, I plugged a couple of the gaps in my Folds collection earlier this year by picking up his two most recent records, including last year’s So There, recorded and credited with yMusic.
Sadly, the downside to having bought my ticket for this gig several months before the event was having to miss Parquet Courts, who were in town playing at the new Invisible Wind Factory on the same night. I would undoubtedly have gone there instead, if I had known.
She clarified for anyone confused that “I’m not Ben Folds”, as she started her fourth and last show as his support act, playing just with guitarist Joshua Grange.
Next up was For The Last Time with its sampled drums, from this year’s Resistor album, which she had recently played on the Later… With Jools Holland TV show, followed by My Least Favorite Life, from True Detective.
Overall, I found her to be a kind of Nashville Norah Jones, and while clearly talented, she didn’t really move me all that much until the very end of her set. She introduced her last song of the tour as a Beatles cover, as she was in Liverpool after all, before quickly adding, “just kidding”.
As usual I went for an interval pint at the Philharmonic pub. On my return, the between-bands music was a mix of the sublime (David Bowie’s Suffragette City) and the ridiculous (System Of A Down, who I can’t believe I have only just discovered are of Armenian origin, though considerably more so than me).
Before Ben Folds came out on stage, the six-piece yMusic performed an instrumental number before being joined by the main man, and drummer Sam Smith. Somewhat annoyingly, all the musicians were on one side of the stage, rather than in the middle, meaning my view wasn’t as good as it could have been.
The main event started off with three tracks from So There, with his quirky, deadpan nature starting with the marvellous Capable Of Anything, concisely introduced as “here’s a song”. This was followed by the truly gorgeous Not A Fan before another track off the latest album, Phone In A Pool, introduced as “here’s a song I made up”.
Mess from the third BFF album, The Unauthorized Biography Of Reinhold Messner, was apparently written to sound like Johnny Cash (it doesn’t!), and was the last track before Ben and Sam left the stage for a more abstract number from yMusic.
They returned to continue the set with I’m Not The Man from the latest album, before the set veered into the past more than it had done so previously. After Jesusland, Ben performed Boxing from the debut BFF album basically solo, having introduced it as being about the recently deceased Muhammad Ali.
The much bigger sounding Erase Me from 2012’s The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind featured some great violin work, before trumpet introduced a radical reworking of Song For The Dumped that rather descended into chaos (originally from 1997’s second album Whatever And Ever Amen).
The main set ended with the fabulous Steven’s Last Night In Town, also from the sophomore LP, which got extended with a (quite good) drum solo, and then one on clarinet.
Ben Folds came back on his own, asking the crowd for requests, as is apparently his wont. First up was Kate, yet another from Whatever, complete with the great line “her mix tape’s a masterpiece”.
After Landed, the rest of the musicians returned for Still Fighting It from his first solo album, Rockin’ The Suburbs. There then followed a long monologue about yMusic and scientologists!
You Don’t Know Me, that featured Regina Spektor on vocals on record, came before the final flourish of Army, from Reinhold Messner. The band were played out, somewhat oddly, with a version of Elgar’s Pomp And Circumstance March No. 1, aka Land Of Hope And Glory.
Although disappointed to have missed out on Parquet Courts, this was still a very enjoyable gig, and reminded me of how much I like Ben Folds, both as a person and as an artist. It certainly won’t be challenging for a place in my Top 5 gigs of the year, but was an entertaining evening all the same.
It also reminded me of how many good songs are in his catalogue, and from across many albums – I’d lulled myself into the impression that the first two albums was where all the nuggets were to be found, which is clearly not true.
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Here is much of the music from the evening on Spotify, including some of the tunes played between bands: