Ben Folds and a Piano | Review
Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival – 11 May 2018
By Michael Ferguson
The venue, let’s mention the venue first. The marquee is cloaked in black drapes with a lighting arrangement that resembles a sky full of sparkling stars on a cloudless night. It is totally magical and provides the perfect backdrop for Ben Folds and a Piano on his first visit to Belfast.
And Ben Folds and a Piano is exactly what we get. No band tonight, an evening of delicate vocals, delicate piano playing for the most part and a smattering of moments when that piano takes a battering. It’s fascinating and a wonderful experience.
The setlist is drawn from a back catalogue of songs from his solo career and when he was the Ben Folds Five, albeit obscurely they were a trio. Both wonderful eras of a career that spans some twenty-five years.
The nights gets off to a slow-ish start with Phone in a Pool and Annie Waits, and it takes this full house a little while to fully appreciate the beauty of the performance. They are a little subdued and it is polite applause at the end of these songs. But it would be remiss not to say at this point it’s a temporary scenario and this crowd soon fully participates in a four-part harmony sing along. There was a feeling that it wasn’t really working that well but they got involved and in the end it was fun. The night was starting to move through the gears.
There are stories of childhood memories, Uncle Walter being President and a fascination with a bottle of Amigo Tequila he bought in Belfast. He intimates that it may not the best of quality and it appears to be melting the takeaway coffee cup that he is drinking it out of.
It is a completely weird night, aside from the fact Ben Folds is just someone a little different, and one of this Belfast crowd has brought their dog to enjoy the show. This dog got a serious amount of affection tonight. But this is what Ben Folds is all about. Something little different sums him up. His piano playing has heart and soul in abundance, his voice is never crystal clear and smooth but it carries itself perfectly in songs that have a depth of feeling and heart.
He writes a lot of songs about breakups, it’s not a night of light-hearted happy songs. So There lauds “You taught me nothing, I owe you nothing, how could I forget you, when there is nothing to forget”. The lyrics never will sugar coat feelings, it’s the way it should be.
Landed gives us the first proper sing-along, a song about getting out of an unhealthy situation, “come pick me up, I’ve landed”. This is what the night was waiting for, the move from an appreciation of art to fully being part of it.
Simply there was no need for the “woo hoo” American golf fanatic in the crowd. Why spoil the night for anyone around you?
Ben Folds commands the stage, never mind the fact he is on his own. He fills it. It is a fascination to watch and a tribute to his talent as a musician. Fred Jones Part 2 tells the tale of working a lifetime and what you get out of it, sometimes nothing that will be remembered in all honesty.
Steven’s Last Night in Town is followed by an amazing scenario where a stagehand brings out a single snare drum which he plays as he follows her around the stage, then tom-toms, a bass drum, cymbals and finally a drum stool, he sits down and plays a drum solo. It left a crowd thinking where the hell did that come from. Just Ben Folds being that little bit left field. That is what he does.
He plays You Don’t Know Me, without Regina Spektor obviously as it is Ben Folds and a Piano tonight, but it still carries so well. It is definitely a crowd favourite tonight.
You would never put Ben Folds with boom boxing but that is what a night like tonight is all about. Being different. Rockin’ the Suburbs evolves from this and with a reference to Neil Hannon’s Divine Comedy smuggled into the song you have endeared yourself to a Northern Ireland audience for life
We get the obligatory threat to go home before he comes back on for the encore.
One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces has the whole crowd on their feet for the first time tonight and a crowd of people make it to the front of the stage and dancing breaks out. It is a great sight, maybe just because you would not expect it.
Army finishes the evening, it’s about not actually wanting to be in the army because you would rather be in a band and for Ben Folds it’s ultimately a good choice. Even if it’s not a true story it’s worth singing about and having us believe.
And that is it, Ben Folds first visit to Belfast is over. He walks off the stage to the Eric Carmen song All By Myself leaving an audience loving it, it being what he does. Let’s hope it is not too long before he comes back to Belfast and as much as Ben Folds and a Piano was fabulous it would be great to hear all this musical beauty with a full band. But then maybe that is just this reviewers’ opinion. We will have to wait and see.