October 22, 2008
Better than: Being dumped.
By CRYSTAL K. WIEBE
It smelled like a wet sock inside the Uptown Theater last night, but legions of Ben Folds fans didn't seem to mind. Most of them had waited in a long, rainy line to see the quirky and clever piano rocker who's been crafting catchy dork anthems for more than a decade.
If dork anthems seems too dismissive, then you weren't at the show. Ben Folds fans are not ultra cool hipsters. They have 90s goatees; they wear baggy t-shirts. That's fine -- Ben Folds isn't an ultra cool hipster. He's a funny little dude with nerdy glasses and a knack for writing about shitty things like deteriorating relationships in a way that is both humorous and heartfelt and which reminds us that we're actually all fragile, little dorks deep down inside.
Actually, our managing editor, Scott Wilson, who was also at the show, describes Folds' ability much better: "A note-perfect snippet of Elton John's "This Song Has No Title," which Folds tackled earlier this week at a show in New York celebrating the 35th anniversary of John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, highlighted the student-of-rock part of his formula. The story he told about the event showed the pottymouthed tattletale. Folds remains the naughty prodigy, chewing a mouthful of soap and blowing glossy pop bubbles. When his union of puerile lyrics and sophisticated melodies (plus brainwave harmonies) works, as it does on all three Ben Folds Five albums (see especially "Fair," Steely Dan by way of the Muppets), the results hit something close to a universal truth: All affection turns to injury. Nobody else covers the scorched earth of rejection with the same acuity -- or the same maddening air of entitlement. Blame Folds' dramatic personae for that -- like Randy Newman, he's usually writing in character, and those characters are dim in optimism and dimmer in anger. Or just blame Folds, whose songs inspire devotion among a cross-section of the people he means to skewer. The ones who shout "We love Ben Folds Five!" just as Folds is introducing his new band or call for his cover of "Bitches Ain't Shit," a demonstration of misappropriated irony the man has had the sense to retire."
There's no way I can keep up that sort of deep analysis, so I'll just provide a simple summary of the show from here on out.
The setlist was heavy on new stuff. Folds played real and "fake" versions of songs from his latest album Way to Normal. For people like me, whose interest in Folds peaked around Rockin' the Suburbs, the glut of unfamiliar songs gave Folds' latest single -- "You Don't Know Me" -- a second meaning. Having not heard the new album, I confess it was virtually impossible to tell which songs were "real" and which were the spoofs that the band released online. That speaks to Folds' talents -- apparently, he can't help but write good songs, even when he's just kidding around. The best new thing I heard all night was a fake track, "The Bitch Went Nuts." A giant photograph of a woman jittered on a screen behind Folds as he sang in the character of a young, Republican lawyer who inadvertently brings a liberal chick to his office Christmas party.
Because I'm a journalist, my favorite Folds character is Fred Jones in "Fred Jones Part 2." That song, unfortunately, didn't make the cut last night, but he did work in a ton of old standbys -- i.e. "Fair," "Still Fighting It," "Underground" -- for the encores. Sorry, no "Brick."
Personal Bias: The last time I saw Ben Folds, I was in the front row of a tiny Omaha club. There's no way I was going to touch any keytars this time.
Random Detail: The round tables in the main Uptown bar have adjustable tops.
By the Way: It's often possible to avoid the long line at the bar by heading upstairs to the balcony bar.
Our photographer, when confronted with the restrictions for shooting at the show — namely that he would have to shoot from behind the soundboard of the venue during the first 30 seconds of each of the first three songs — chose not to try and shoot at all rather than submit mediocre photos. Three other photographers joined him in walking out photoless.