Review: Ben Folds broke the piano during performance at Cain’s Ballroom

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by Trent Gleason

Southeast Campus Associate Editor

Ben Folds’ Paper Airplane tour brought him to Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa on Aug. 28, attracting a sizable crowd, many of which were excited to send song requests soaring toward Folds through the power of origami.

Only half of the concert was dedicated to fan requests, however. The first 45 minutes of Folds’ performance followed a typical setlist, featuring fan favorites and new material alike.

Having overheard a super-fan describe Folds as “the modern day Billy Joel,” it was clear that Folds had established quite the following over his 20-odd years of activity, and the event that was about to unfold would only reinforce that fact.

“He’s kinda edgy,” said Patrick Wells, photographer for the event, in response to asking about Folds’ appeal.

Folds was at the height of his popularity during the late 90’s and early 2000s, and people who grew up around that time seem to be the most attracted to Folds.

Folds first hit the mainstream as the frontman of his band Ben Folds Five, which consisted of himself, providing vocals and keys, Robert Sledge on bass, and Darren Jessee on percussion. The band hit the radio waves with their hit track “Brick” off of the 1997 album “Whatever and Ever Amen.”

Folds put on a great performance and the audience was very interactive. There was an air of fun emanating from the stage at all times.
Folds put on a great performance and the audience was very interactive. There was an air of fun emanating from the stage at all times.

Ben Folds Five split up in 2000 to seek independent ventures, and Folds continued to break hearts and funny bones with his signature mix of heartstring-tugging balladry and biting satire.

After entering the stage to mass applause and taking a seat at the piano, he began playing “Phone In A Pool” off of 2015s “So There,” and followed that up by having the audience sing a “four-part counterpoint,” taking the time to compliment the crowd for appearing to know what that even meant.

It was around this time when I noticed that his fingers were covered in bandages, and it was not hard to tell why, watching him make fierce love to the piano, crushing the keys relentlessly with each piano-led banger.

As I watched him beat all 88 keys into submission, I noticed something shoot out of the piano in a fashion similar to confetti.

The audience, and Folds himself, later learned that what had shot out of the piano was not celebratory pyrotechnics, but the low F string, after a stagehand came out to give a disapproving update.

Missing the low F key of the piano failed to slow Folds down, however, and somewhere along the line he hopped on a drum set and nearly destroyed those too, as he seemingly imitated the opening scene of 2014s Oscar-nominated film, “Whiplash.”

All of this sounds rather brash, but the instruments Folds seemingly abuses rarely sound pained. And of course, he slowed things down every now and then to play fan-favorites such as “Still Fighting It,” or the “Coke and Fries song” as I ignorantly squabbled down in my notes.

With all of this, the first half of Folds’ performance came to a close, and intermission began. The audience was encouraged to prepare paper airplanes for the next set, and to wait until an announcer gave the countdown before sending them flying toward the stage.

“I know some of you enjoy launching prematurely,” Folds stated to an unsurprisingly large amount of chuckles.

He was not wrong, as a handful of eager fans just could not wait to send their requests soaring to the platform, many of which squeezed through the crowd to ensure that their makeshift aircrafts reached the stage.

Once the time came to officially send off, paper airplanes filled the room, and a good few hit attendees in the back of the head—and appeared to pack quite the punch, surprisingly.

The end result left the platform looking like Christmas morning, in the sense that there were piles of paper strewn about everywhere, bound to be ignored.

Folds decided to play 10 songs, and he kicked this off with a request to “make up a song about watermelons.” This led to Folds revealing a bit of his past.

He sang about how he was traumatized by watermelons as a child after he discovered that his mother was allergic to them. He explained how her lips grew pink and puffy “like a Hollywood movie star.”

He grew up scared of eating watermelon, fearing that the allergy may be genetic, and he did not want movie star lips.

He followed that up with a Steely Dan song, and a handful of fan-favorites, such as “Army” off of Ben Folds Five’s 1999 record “The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner”, and “The Luckiest” off of Folds’ first solo album, 2001’s “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” among other things.

Many fans yelled from the crowd, eager to hear Folds’ smash-hit cover of Dr. Dre’s “B*tches Ain’t Sh*t,” but to the chagrin of the audience, a paper airplane containing such a request never found its way into Folds’ hands.

He ended the set with another “Rockin’ the Suburbs” hit, “Zak and Sara,” which undoubtedly made “it possible for all white boys to dance.”

He then left the stage, but after about 10 seconds of organized stomping, he decided to come back for a few more songs.

The highlight of the encore was “Gracie” off of 2005’s “Songs for Silverman,” aptly requested by a little girl sharing the track’s namesake. After receiving the request, he expressed relief that he had not performed his cover of Dr. Dre.

He then officially ended the concert with “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces,” which, ironically, contains plenty of swearing.

Ultimately, Folds put on a great performance, and though many mourned the state of the piano and Ben’s fingers, it was a good time with an air of fun emanating from the stage at all times.

Before Folds even took the stage, “electrofolk” duo Tall Heights introduced themselves.

“Are they the opening act,” photographer Patrick Wells asked as the duo stood on stage tuning their instruments.

“Maybe they’re just getting the stage ready for Ben,” I thought before observing their appearance and demeanor. “No, they’re too handsome to be stagehands.”

On the stage stood two lanky Caucasian men, looking to be in their late 20’s. They wore clothes that managed to appear both baggy and tight, and boasted trendy haircuts.

Tall Heights hypnotizes the audience with its unique mix  of ambient synth and hazy folk.
Tall Heights hypnotizes the audience with its unique mix of ambient synth and hazy folk.

Attractive men as they were, it appeared that they were trying to channel the style of hip acts such as The Chainsmokers, which unfortunately worked against them. By looking like many other hip artists of today, they lost the opportunity to sell the audience on personality.

Luckily, their musical set-up seemed promising. Paul Wright, one half of the duo, sang melody and played a cello that he strapped to his chest, while the other half, Tim Harrington, sang harmony and played acoustic guitar. The band also toured with a drummer, by the name of Paul Dumas.

What makes the band “electrofolk” is that both stringed instruments were being “enhanced” by synthesizers. The synth-accompanied sound came off as moody and atmospheric, to the point that the group appeared to be an ambient band when they first began playing.

Ultimately, once the members of Tall Heights actually started singing, they revealed themselves to be producers of typical, hazy folk music, which seemed to suit itself better to a make-out session rather than an engaging stage performance.

All this aside, the band did close out the set with something pretty cool. Harrington told the audience to call the person standing next to them, put both devices on speaker phone, and press the two mobiles together, face-to-face.

The resulting sound was one akin to communicating with the nether of Hell, and the shrill tones filling the venue lent themselves surprisingly well to the music being performed.

Tall Heights may have a silly band name, a pandering sense of style, and a relatively stale take on the folk genre, but serves a purpose and the bandserves it decently well—to make sexy music for sexy people.

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