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Gag reflex

Ben Folds at the Orpheum, September 26, 2008
By MEGAN V. BELL  |  October 2, 2008

ALTOIDS, ANYONE? Folds was exasperating, yes, but you can’t say his show wasn’t creative.

“You are in the elite first wave of people to hear this stuff,” Ben Folds told us Friday night with a smirk, possibly no longer able to be serious on stage after nearly two decades of tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Or it could have been nerves: after a pair of songs from Way to Normal (due for release from Epic four days after the show), Folds explained the format of the rest of the concert. The first hour would consist of new material, some from the album and some “fake” knockoffs of those same songs, all composed within a week and leaked on-line. Odd? Definitely. Annoying? Yes — especially when Folds called these “fake” versions “boneheaded” and warned us that the format hadn’t gone over so well in DC a few nights back. It grew exasperating to hear him explain before each song whether it was real or “fake” and then tell us what it was about.

Bothersome format aside, this was one of his more creative shows. Behind him and his band (bass, drums, synth, and percussion) were projected images ranging from a crazed-looking woman screaming (a cornerstone of the Folds visual catalogue) to a meaty brain spinning in circles. Folds made a prepared piano out of Altoids tins for one new song, then ran it through a distortion pedal, giving it a futuristic, tinny bite. During “The Frown Song,” two dudes in oversized frowning masks (the depressive counterpart to the “Have a Nice Day” smiley?) inched their way out from the wings playing keytars. “You Don’t Know Me” was accompanied by a short film with Adult Swim’s Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim as an oversexed and gender-confused couple.

After a break, the band returned for amped-up versions of “Zak and Sara,” “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” “Underground,” “Landed,” and “Army”; people leapt from their seats and the balcony jiggled a tad too much for comfort. After yet another “fake” Way to Normal track (he can’t help himself!), the band left; the crowd of diehards stood and cheered for 10 minutes but were rewarded only with an encore bow — talk about a faux bonus.

  Topics: Live Reviews , Orpheum Theatre , Ben Folds , Ben Folds ,  More more >
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