Ben Folds live

On Tuesday we went to see Ben Folds at the Carling Academy in Newcastle, which is pretty much identical to the Carling Academy in London if you moved it 300 miles nearer the North Pole.

The support act was a man called Corn Mo, playing solo without his band. This was one of the most complete WTF experiences I’ve had at a live gig. While I can see that in some hard-to-pin-down way his songs share a certain sense of deadpan irony with Ben Folds, he was just…bizarre. He spoke like the breathless Open University guy from The Fast Show, looked like Bill Bailey, sang like Freddie Mercury, and played an absurd set of observational songs accompanied by an accordion or an organ. To finish he sang along to a CD of one of his band’s tracks, which had a far more overtly rock/metal flavour and so ended up sounding like a Darkness song. The audience appeared to love him. We felt like Derren Brown had secretly set the entire thing up to mess with our minds.

Mercifully Ben Folds then rescued us. Songs played included (not in this order): Underground, Kate, Battle of Who Could Care Less, Narcolepsy, Army, Lullaby, Annie Waits, Zak and Sara, Gone, Rockin’ the Suburbs, All You Can Eat, You To Thank, Jesusland, Landed. He also played several others from the upcoming album due out in September, which some YouTube research reveals to be probably: Errant Dog, Free Coffee, Kylie from Connecticut, Hiroshima(?) and one with the line “If there’s a god out there he’s laughing at us and our football team”. The new ones sounded good, insofar as you can tell from one listen at a concert. Free Coffee was particularly good.

Oh, and there was a song about Newcastle, its “weird-ass” white footbridge, eating a dodgy meal and not being understood when ordering beer. I assume this was written specially for the evening but it was so slick it was pretty hard to tell!

We were standing a little way back on the raised floor behind the sound desk, where the view was great but the actual vocals seemed a little boomy at first. Since he kicked off with a song I didn’t know it took me a little while to get into the gig. Maybe I was still reeling from Corn Mo. However as things progressed and Ben’s piano playing became ever more virtuoso (his hands were just a blur at several points) I started having a really good time. He had an organ by his side which he would often play with his right hand while his left stayed on the piano. For other “effects” he dropped bits of metal and shakers onto the piano strings.

Ben wasn’t particularly talkative and what he did gabble into the mike wasn’t always that easy to catch, but the sheer energy of the songs came through well. He was supported by a drummer and base player in a “Ben Folds Five” arrangement making for some extremely faithful renditions of his early material. Their backing harmonies were fantastic, and they delivered “hand me my nose ring / show me the mosh pit” from Underground with aplomb.

The show ended with Not the Same, for which Ben got the audience to do the aaaaahAAAAAH bits in a three-part harmony, then started conducting the audience with his hands. Hugely good fun. The audience were singing along throughout the evening and generally very appreciative (although there was a distracting amount of loud chatter from the back of the room in some of the quieter songs).

Good fun.

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