Ben Folds treated long-time fans at The Jefferson on April 15 with songs as relevant and poignant as ever. In many ways, the show had a hint of finality to it — Folds played everything from his oldest classics to his newest ballads, seemingly paying homage to his growth as an artist. The collection of songs, however, did not feel dated in any way. Each tune delivered the light, fresh-air feeling for which Folds and his piano are acclaimed.
Ryan Lerman opened for Folds with a less than spectacular set. In an all-too-familiar singer-songwriter fashion, Lerman took the stage equipped with only a guitar and rather uncreative lyricism. While talented, Lerman’s bare-bones approach failed to deliver a sufficiently unique sound to spawn a new fan-base that night. The soft tunes did little more than pacify the audience until Folds took the stage, sitting alone at his grand piano.
Inspired by the likes of Billy Joel and Elton John, Folds explores the intersection of pop, jazz and classical music. Folds first gained widescale recognition performing with alternative rock trio Ben Folds Five, whose music he has described as “punk rock for sissies.” He then broke away from the group in 2001 to pursue a solo career, releasing six solo albums in a seven-year span. Starting in 2009, Folds became a judge for five seasons on NBC’s “The Sing-Off” — a series that helped popularize a cappella music. Since then, Folds has embarked on multiple tours — confirming Elmore Magazine’s observation that “If there was ever a time to take this great artist seriously, it's now.”
During his set, Folds returned to the performance style that marked his earliest days as a singer — making a one-man show out of nothing more than a piano and microphone. The concert felt extremely intimate — all superfluous sound was stripped away, encouraging the audience to focus on his songs’ lyrics and unique melodies.
Folds also demonstrated artistic innovation during the show, using the pedals and keys on his Yamaha piano to produce driving percussive beats beneath chords. He relied heavily on audience participation as well, especially when performing songs with layered vocals. At one point, he even taught the audience a three-part vocal riff, waving his arms instructively like a conductor.
Folds worked humor into his performance too, critiquing himself for being “male, middle-class and white” in “Rockin’ the Suburbs” and even inventing a parody encore song about the city of Charlottesville.
Folds will continue his solo cross-country tour this year, hoping to maintain his streak of sold-out shows. He will collaborate with multiple opening acts, ranging from the Atlanta Symphony to Regina Spektor. Most importantly, he will continue pursuing his musical mission — sharing and making music “for humans.”
Correction: The article previously misstated the show was on April 14. The show was on April 15.