Ben Folds played a free outdoor concert for Meliora Weekend on Saturday, closing out a solo piano tour that took him across the Northeast.
Ben’s connection to Rochester runs deep. Aside from judging NBC’s a cappella show the Sing Off, where the YellowJackets competed, and collaborating with the Midnight Ramblers on an album of a capella covers, he claimed that he first found success in the city of Rochester itself.
After shouting out local coffee shop Java’s Cafe, he said that Rochester was one of the “first areas [he] could play for more than 20 people.”
Folds did not play many songs from his time with the Ben Folds Five, instead opting for solo songs going back to his 2001 album “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” as well as new ones from “So There.”
Only three Five songs made an appearance, one of them an audience request that was almost absurd in its obscurity—“Eddie Walker” is from the band’s 1998 compilation of early demos and b-sides, “Naked Baby Photos.” (The other two songs from Folds’ time with the Five were “Kate” and crowd-pleasing closer, “Army.”)
When he played the title track from “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” Folds explained some of the backstory: the song was meant to make fun of angsty rock bands like Korn, who called Folds’ band “pussies” in a magazine interview.
That song was intentionally overproduced on the album, poking fun at Korn and other similar bands, but Ben’s solo performance was able to replicate that easily, between the way he smashed on the low end of the keys and the way he dragged out the “rap” bridge as far as he possibly could.
Similarly, when performing “So There”’s’s first single, “Capable of Anything,” Ben mimicked the complicated orchestral elements of the song, part of a collaboration with contemporary classical collective yMusic, on his piano.
At times Folds would even turn the audience into his own orchestra, the highlight of which was the chilling “Not the Same,” where he managed to conduct the audience in three-part harmony. For “You Don’t Know Me,” originally a Regina Spektor duet, the audience sang Spektor’s part.
These sort of prompts weren’t even necessary: during “Annie Waits,” some people even shouted out the ad-libs from the original studio recording when they weren’t clapping along to the song’s signature block-chord piano riff.
Not everyone knew every song, but it didn’t—through high-speed goofy songs like “Effington” and slow ballads like “Landed,” the diehards carried the newbies.
Since it was the last stop of the tour, Folds was understandably exhausted, but he rarely let that show. He seemed grateful throughout for the invested audience—from the oldest fans to the just-converted.
“You’re a hero!” shouted an audience member before Folds began “So There” highlight “Not A Fan.”
“You’re my heroes for listening at a festival to a quiet waltz at the piano,” he replied. “You know that’s not normal.”