Ben Folds returned for his second performance at Brisbane’s Lyric Theatre following a sold out show the night before. Though playing to a significantly smaller crowd, Folds delivered an energetic show featuring material from throughout his recording career. Backed by a four-piece band that offered perhaps the fullest sound that he’s achieved on-stage outside of his symphony orchestra tours, Folds stuck largely to his trademark piano.
In typical Folds fashion the setlist meandered along through genres and periods; from the opening Levi Johnston’s Blues, documenting the son-in-law of Sarah Palin’s inadvertant rise from obscurity to the loungy Nick Hornby-penned Doc Pomus through to a hurried version of Annie Waits and a cover of Ke$ha’s Sleazy, treading similar territory as his 2005 cover of Dr Dre’s Bitches Ain’t Shit. It was a cover of Divine Comedy’s Songs Of Love later in the show where Folds’ truly delivered in the covers department.
Now a decade into his solo career (though for the first time actually legitimising the name Ben Folds Five touring as a five-piece), Folds has built a catalogue diverse and strong enough to draw from at his shows, piecing together a setlist from the robust Rockin’ The Suburbs and Songs For Silverman, squeezing some life out of some of 2008’s Way To Normal and road-testing Lonely Avenue to fill the bulk of the set.
‘Five’ material did appear sporadically; an improptu version of Jackson Cannery saw Folds take up the acoustic guitar, while a solo requests section brought the very welcome Last Polka in a spot that could just have easily have become Brick or another worn-out classic.
It’s surprising how a dull crowd can make or break a show. Though Folds gave a stellar performance and fed off what little energy he could extract from the quiet mid-week crowd that was pieced together from fans that were too lazy to get tickets to the first show, it never felt like the audience was ever truly immersed in the show. Folds took a leap of faith with his requisite audience singalong Army, rewarded with a lukewarm chorus while an awkwark clap turned the intro of Rockin’ the Suburbs into a rousing Hava Nagila.
Having comfortably sold out most of his Brisbane shows over the years with enthusiastic crowds, it was an uncanny experience to sit in a crowd so quiet, but as he bashed the keys for closer One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces, one got the sense that Ben Folds would deliver a standout performance to an empty room.