Photo by Sheldon Ang Photography
Location: Perth Concert Hall on 29th January
“The West Australian Symphony Orchestra were very astute, they managed to talk me into the concept of leaving out the rock band…
So, there weren’t any plexiglass screens and some drummer doing the white man thing… and a 6-string bass player doing the loud shit… and credit to how much talent there is in Australia – particularly in this region.
All the charts that I’ve travelled with in the last 5 years were all done here and the one before. Gracie was scored by Paul Buckmaster, and if you don’t know that name, Paul Buckmaster was a legend – a good friend of mine, a mentor. He sadly passed away three years ago. Anything in the 70’s that has an orchestra and strings in it – he probably did it… he did all of the Elton John stuff. And more impressive, when he was 18, he scored the David Bowie hit; the one about the space dude (Space Oddity; cue laughs from the audience) you might know it… yeah that… he scored it… and then he went to score all kinds of stuff… he was so impressive… and so he was like ‘where are you all from… we’re all from Perth (the audience claps)’…(long pause) maybe I should just play the song…”
Ben Folds flirted with the crowd as often as serenading them lyrically, and with some authority he stood, centre stage as a narrator, stand-up comedian and an auto biographer, making this concert a dream for the legion of staunch historians, those that lovingly obsess over his personal life and music.
For others, the wonderment behind the songs may be a bit too much, with Folds sometimes babbling on for over four minutes. But, as a music journalist who has interviewed almost forty artists from across the globe in 2020, this writer was intrigued by Fold’s past – a man of many talents, and by their manifestation a musical journey that propagates from a conceptual dream to the air waves of stardom…
Arguably, the performance at the Perth Concert Hall with WASO was the first “international act” to perform in Australia since March of 2020. The American, now temporally residing in Adelaide due to Covid, graced the stage to a standing ovation by the Western Australia Symphony Orchestra before settling his fingers onto the ebony and ivory of his Yamaha grand piano, sparking the night with Effington from his third and latest album “Way to Normal” (2008), which, Folds said during an interview with L.A. Times, that the song was inspired while driving by a town called Effingham in Illinois. With snarky lyrics such as, Are they effing in their yards? Effing in their Cars? perhaps the song was an expulsion of frustration from the year that had gone by, causing a ten-month delay to the Perth performance from the original schedule.
The full piece orchestra was led by Jessica Gethin, an internationally acclaimed conductor who has spread her baton throughout the United States, Asia, Australia and New Zealand and has held the position as the Chief Conductor of the Perth Symphony between 2011 and 2019. She exhilaratingly weaved her baton like a martial arts expert, orchestrating the full piece comprising of violin, viola, cello, double bass, harp and so forth, thrilling the audience as much as the centrepiece himself, many of whom were hypnotised by the energetic animation and hair weaving flicks of the Perth native.
The sixteen-song set list, which included the likes of Jesusland, Zak and Sara, Rock This Bitch, and Kylie from Connecticut was divided into two sets, with a twenty-five-minute break in between, much as one would expect from an orchestra. The token sing-along song of the night was Peter Allen’s hit, I still call Australia Home, a dedication to his temporary residence.
Folds is no stranger to orchestral machinations, having performed across the globe with the world’s most prestigious ensembles. The precocious artist is also the first Artistic Advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Centre. So, for most, they’d expect nothing less from Folds with the infusion of his musical and sonic styles with an Orchestra, as the shock and awe wasn’t as tangible as the performances of Metallica and KISS with the San Francisco Symphony and Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, or as a matter fact, two weeks prior, Birds of Tokyo with WASO, one that reignited the audience’s passion for the local band.
For most parts, the audience remained silent, seduced by the hypnotic vocals of the Winston-Salem born musician, producer, composer, record producer, NY times best-selling writer, and a member of the prestigious Sony Artisan of Imagery (an avid photographer, his photography has featured in a National Geography documentary). They sat entranced by the glistening lights of Sir Newton’s spectrum, glazing the floor like a lonely lighthouse sweeping the ocean. The encore of the night was Luckiest, the biggest ballad from Fold’s solo repertoire, which was fitting in many ways.
Tonight though, it was all about Fold’s personal showpiece, performing songs from across his three solo albums after disembarking from the Ben Fold Five trio in 2000. Despite the solo effort, Folds managed to squeeze a couple of songs in dedication to his trio days of the last millennium in Erase Me and Steven’s Last Night in Town. But most were hoping for the smash hit Brick (you know that one with the high falsetto at the start of the chorus – She’s a Brick and I’m drowning Slowly, Off the coast and I’m headed nowhere) which put Ben Folds Five on the world map in 1997. That song would have sealed the night, with one audience even yelled out “Brick!” when Folds offered a request. Despite of the obvious omission, tonight’s performance was a masterclass , a delightful, symbiotic infusion of musical genres and sublime artistry.