Taking the stage with wild abandon, Ben Folds and his band stormed the stage at The Pageant on Sunday night and proceeded to play a 2 1/2 hour show to the appreciative sold out audience. The band ran across the stage, jumping and shouting over the piano, over the drum riser and around the entire stage in circles for a few minutes concluding with Folds throwing his piano stool at the piano keys at least three times for good measure. Folds admitted that he and his band were happy to make a return trip to St. Louis, and judging from their reaction the crowd was happy to see him.
The show, Folds third in St. Louis in the past 18 months, highlighted material his 2010 release Lonely Avenue, a collaboration with British novelist Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, Fever Pitch, About A Boy), yet the 27 song set list remained a strong overview of his career. Hindered by a choppy delivery due to snare drum setbacks and a You Tube filming break mid set, Folds, the consummate entertainer, continued the show undeterred and remained un-phased. He improved songs during the snare drum switches and returned jabs from the hecklers in the crowd when directing the crowd in filming for a video for the Lonely Avenue track, "A Working Day."
Joined onstage by Andrew Higley on French horn/melodica, Ryan Lerner on bass, Sam Smith on drums and Chad Chapin on acoustic guitar/percussion/glockenspiel (read: kitchen sink). Folds looked like a smart newsboy, pounded and tinkled the grand piano situated just left of center stage, but seemed relaxed and even jabbed with his band about their instruments. At one point Folds made fun of Lerner for taking off his bass guitar and putting it back on to look more important even though he only had one. "You should have like 40 basses back there - we'll work on that," Folds cracked. For all the fun the band was no slouch and contributed greatly to the overall experience especially regarding the vocal arrangements displayed on the new album.
Folds started the set with "Levi Johnston's Blues" a hilarious satirical take by Hornby referring to Levi Johnston's reaction to his ex-fiancée Bristol Palin's unplanned pregnancy and the shock waves it sent through the Vice-Presidential bid of Sarah Palin. After playing a few of the stronger tracks from his new album, Folds recounted the story of the band getting together before their first show of the tour in Chicago and deciding on a cover song to play during the tour. The band drew a blank on which song they wanted to cover and turned to iTunes for inspiration and happened to catch the small window in which a new song by Ke$ha had hit the top spot on the chart and the band agreed "Sleazy" would have a spot in their set list for the tour.
A highlight, or possibly low light for others, was Folds taking over as part art director/teacher in leading the crowd through moves and singing parts for a video collage for his song "A Working Day." At other tour stops Folds taped his audiences and advised that he was up to 16,000 at this point helping him goof around for his video. While the finished product will likely look cool, it detracted somewhat from the overall flow of the show and stretched the show over curfew; not that anyone seemed to care by the end.
About halfway into the show the band left the stage and left Folds to play some solo piano numbers and granted some requests from his deep catalog to some knowledgeable fans. Compared to previous recent sets on this tour and recent performances in St. Louis, Folds played much more of his material from his years leading Ben Folds Five. Much of the crowd, surprisingly diverse in age, sung along to these songs including the rare "Emaline" and "The Secret Life of Morgan Davis." A friend's acquaintance mentioned that he had seen Folds play 10 shows throughout the years, including his first at the long defunct Galaxy on Washington Ave, and had never seen him play "Emaline" live.
When the band returned to the stage the set list circled back to the older Folds solo material from Rockin' The Suburbs and Way To Normal before ending the show with three Ben Folds Five tracks, including the favorite "Kate" as the show's closer. A solid set that may have seemed a bit long for some, but to his credit Folds kept the crowd entertained with his wit, comedic timing, musicianship, and energetic attitude. This could be the Folds show we're talking about for years as the best we've seen, but it could have been even better.
Ben Folds set list:
Levi Johnston's Blues
Sleazy (Ke$ha cover)
Busted snare drum improv song
You To Thank
2nd busted snare improve song
Still Fighting It
A Working Day (YouTube film with crowd participation)
Ben Folds solo piano:
Evaporated (Ben Folds Five)
The Last Polka (Ben Folds Five)
Emaline (Ben Folds Five)
The Secret Life of Morgan Davis (Ben Folds Five)
Zak and Sara
You Don't Know Me
Bitch Went Nutz (Fake Version)
Army (Ben Folds Five)
Philosophy (Ben Folds Five)
Kate (Ben Folds Five)