Ben Folds

Ben Folds


‘Wait, this one’s got a fuck tonne of chords in it.’

Ben Folds flexes fingers, readies himself and then launches into another track and blow me he’s not kidding.  These aren’t 1, 4, 5 progressions, power chords or riffs.  These songs are complex, thought out, elegant.  And they hang beautifully in the velvet-draped environs of The Bridgewater Hall where, it seems, pop might be allowed to grow up.

Eventually, inevitably, inexorably, everyone from Elvis Costello to Pete Tong decides their next step will be to collaborate with orchestras, to allow their adolescent pop offspring to mature, and then present a respectable front to the world.  Ben Folds songs always were very carefully constructed – and often accompanied by, for instance, strings – but tonight they are given a slightly different lease of life, newness breathed into them by the addition of yMusic, a fully formed six piece ensemble from New York.  In a rather adversarial configuration, on one side of the stage we have three strings, on the other three horns, and Folds resides in the middle, behind his piano.  And that’s kind of off-putting at the beginning, as there is no chance to see what his hands are doing, which would have been afforded the audience by a sideways position, which can feel a little like watching a DJ spin from a laptop.  But that’s kind of resolved by the fact Folds stands up at the emotive points… is sitting on the piano by the end of the show… and then moves stage front, singing with the Bridgewater crowd (full of voice, if not entirely full of numbers).

‘I’ve made up a lot of songs,’ Folds says mid-set, and there’s also no arguing with that.  When you’ve written a waltz about Muhammad Ali, you’ve probably reached the most nuanced corners of creative inspiration.  And taken together it’s a very beautiful kind of noise.  Tracks like ‘Mess’, ‘Erase Me’, ‘Song For The Dumped’, ‘Emaline’, ‘Brick’ and, indeed, ‘Boxing’ date back to the early days as Ben Folds Five; others are pulled from more recent long players.  Each member of yMusic has their chance to shine and you find yourself thinking: piano and cello really is the most gorgeous combination of sounds… but no, wait, it’s piano and viola… no wait, piano and sax.

yMusic revel in the collaboration, even performing a rather short Mexican wave at one point, before launching into a track that sounds like it features Mariachi horns.  Folds benefits from the way his songs sound in this altogether grown-up format, the venue itself adding elegance and elan to proceedings (I had forgotten how lovely a venue it is, and how Manchester has benefited from its addition to the city’s musical infrastructure).  Folds is part Geek, part hipster, pushing his glasses onto his nose, laughing, singing songs about relationships gone wrong.  Let’s hope for all our sakes there are other kinds as well.  Folds has been married four times – rich life material for songwriting, if not for a quiet life, the lyric ‘She’s a brick and I’m drowning slowly’, hanging with me as the concert pulls up to a conclusion.

It’s a be-seated respectable kind of a crowd but by the end Folds is directing the crowd to rattle their jewelry and sing along, orchestrating three-part harmonies and accommodating shouted requests (my own call for ‘Landed’ unfortunately goes unheeded).  The concert ends with ‘You Don’t Know Me’ and then ‘Not The Same’… by the end Folds is once again alone, just Ben and a piano, which is perhaps, after all, how he is happiest.

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Simon is a writer, broadcaster and countercultural investigator. Over the last 15 years he has written for everyone from The Guardian to Loaded magazine, presented television for Rapture TV and hosted radio programs for the likes of Galaxy. He has also found time to earn a Masters Degree in Novel Writing and write three books (a collection of journalism, a guidebook to Ibiza and one on financial planning for young people – the most varied publishing career it’s possible to have) and establish and run a PR company, Pad Communications, looking after a range of leisure and lifestyle clients.He currently splits his time between researching his PhD at Leeds University, looking into various countercultural movements; consulting freelance for PR clients; writing for the likes of Marie Claire in Australia, The Big Issue and the Manchester Evening News, where he reviews concerts, theatre and is their Pub & Bar Editor. He is also broadcaster, appearing regularly on Tony Livesey’s late night 5Live show for the BBC, and also for BBC Radio Manchester Gourmet Night food and drink show.Simon’s main focus has been music and travel. His career has included editing Ministry of Sound’s magazine in Ibiza for two summers and also writing two long-running columns for DJmagazine – ”Around The World in 80 Clubs” (which took him everywhere from Beijing to Brazil, Moscow to Marrakech) and “Dispatches From The Wrong Side”. A collection of the latter was published in the UK and US as the book Discombobulated, including tales as varied as gatecrashing Kylie Minogue’s birthday party, getting deported from Russia, having a gun held to his head by celebrity gangster Dave Courtney and going raving in Ibiza with Judith Chalmers. He has recently written for the likes of Red magazine, Hotline, Clash, Tilllate, Shortlist and the Manchester Evening News. Pad Communications has recently consulted for clients as varied as Manchester nightclubs and New Zealand toy companies.On a personal note, Simon is a Londoner who left the capital at the age of 18 and never looked back. He sees himself as a citizen of the global dancefloor having lived in Sydney, Los Angeles, Ibiza and Amsterdam. However his life is now rather more sedentary. After all his adventures he bumped into and subsequently married his highschool sweetheart from their North London Grammar. They now live in Stockport with their four children and four chickens, trying to live the good life. Simon recently turned 40 and is steadfastly refusing to have a midlife crisis – as in, growing a ponytail and buying a shiny red sports car.OK, maybe he’ll buy the sports car…