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Folds in the centerfold

Published: November 6, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc., Front Page


<i>PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

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Ben Folds is just an average, laid-back guy who happens to play jam-packed concerts across the country. Also, he just so happens to be famous.

But fame hasn’t stifled this quirky music-geek from rockin’ out hard to the beat of his own drummer. Folds’ popularity can be attributed to the fact this music resounds among an especially large demographic: the everyday, run-of-the-mill college kid.

And so last night at Gosman gym, Folds performed to an audience of average college kids rocking out hard right along with him. He entered the stage sporting a plain red t-shirt and trademark glasses, looking not unlike someone sitting through a morning class lecture. Then he started pounding away at his grand piano under the blazing white stage lights, his music chords blending in with the howls and applause of the audience, and one thing was suddenly clear—Folds seems like an average guy, but he’s actually a rock star.

Folds explained his state of affairs in an intro song: he’s the same dude he’s always been, except now he gets free coffee on occasion, and when he gets stopped for speeding he gets off with a warning instead of a ticket. (Although he could’ve used the free coffee back when he couldn’t afford it, considering now he’s rich and all). Folds’s melodies are powerful, catchy and upbeat—no surprise that his childhood idol was Billy Joel. The similarities are there, except Folds takes the whole ‘average-guy-turned-singer/songwriter’ shtick one step further: a lot of his lyrics sound as if he just took a random conversation and put it to melody, expletives and all. And the crowd loves him for it.

Folds incorporated plenty of audience participation during the show. For a couple of the songs, he encouraged audience members to sing along. Here his music-geek side really shined through: he managed to get the audience to (rather successfully) break into three and four part harmonies. He explained that the reason he agreed to play at Brandeis, after rejecting the gig twice in the past, was because he received a “very nice letter” from a female student at Brandeis convincing him to. Folds also wanted to commend his dear friend “Snüzz,” who is suffering from Lymphoma. Folds honored his songwriter friend by having the audience sing an excerpt from one of his pieces and requested them to record and upload those clips to YouTube.

Folds’s stage presence is unbound: at one point, his playing was so intense that a key broke off from the piano. He held it up, saying that he wished he could throw it into the audience but wasn’t allowed. Despite the unsturdiness of said piano, Folds insists that it’s a quality instrument (apparently he has the same brand piano in his own studio). Folds resumed the concert, avoiding tunes in D major.

The concert was enjoyable, but that’s no a surprise. Folds’ music (and personality) is hard not to like. His is the anthem of the everyday; the soundtrack to our standard, unspectacular daily lives. The audience rejoiced to his fantastic piano chords and melodic voice—a voice that, in all its modesty, has become a voice for the people (the college people, anyway). A voice that can even take a rendition of Dr. Dre’s “Bitch’s Ain’t Shit” and make it relevant for a Brandeis crowd—now that’s entertainment.