One song in, Ben Folds was already having problems.
“I’m very happy to be here, but all is not well,” Folds explained to the sold-out House of Blues Thursday as he finished playing Annie Waits.
The singer-songwriter’s piano stool wasn’t adjusting to his liking, and his on-stage monitor kept cutting in and out.
As technicians scurried out to remedy the issues, Folds asked for the audience’s indulgence: “Hang on a second — we’ll get this show on the road.”
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Problems addressed, Folds cheekily exited stage left, and returned to even louder cheers than those which greeted him the first time around.
Situated at the grand piano dominating the bare House of Blues stage, he dove into Effington, and the show, as promised, got on the road.
It wasn’t exactly a straightforward path the 48-year-old Folds seemed interested in traveling Thursday, electing instead to meander through his back catalog, as well as showcasing a couple selections from his forthcoming album, a collaboration with classical outfit yMusic titled So There and due out in September.
Folds was performing on his own, but not really, as the capacity crowd was only too happy to supply vociferous backing vocals, horn parts, hand claps and harmonies whether Folds prompted them or not.
His shows have always tended towards the hyper-participatory — his beloved division of the audience into horn sections for Army is always a highlight — but Thursday, it often seemed as though only decorum was stopping anyone from just joining Folds onstage.
It’s the sort of loose, lively camaraderie Folds has with his die-hard fanbase, one treated to a deep dive into Folds’ past. Surprisingly, he pulled heavily from the Ben Folds Five repertoire, airing out favorites such as The Last Polka, One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces and Kate, among others. (One fan, in particular, got a special shout-out near evening’s end: Folds dedicated The Luckiest to the late Kidd Kraddick and his family.)
Folds is also probably one of just a handful of musicians who can patiently explain the downside of having a big radio hit to a sold-out venue, labeling the casual attendees in a colorfully unprintable fashion: “Not saying I wouldn’t like a hit, but I know what comes with it,” he summed up.
Mostly, Thursday’s two-hour concert was a chance to appreciate the durability of Folds’ music — some of the tunes populating the set list dated back to the Clinton administration — but also how he’s managed to keep his wit about him, infusing big, lush pop songs with ironic observations (Rockin’ the Suburbs still bites as hard as it did in Limp Bizkit’s heyday) and achingly gorgeous melodies.
The idea of an unpredictable journey, then, was altogether fitting.
Folds is still restlessly traversing the musical landscape, combining into his sound new ideas and familiar flourishes, all but guaranteeing arrival at a destination like little else in modern pop music.
Preston Jones, 817-390-7713