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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

There was blood on the keyboard

February 16, 2009
Club Zoo, Pittsburgh

Everyone's favorite lovable, piano-playing geek delivered a song-packed performance on President's Day, peppered with some interesting tales from his life and adventures in Pittsburgh. Folds reminisced, "I played at the restaurant next door (referring to a former music venue called Rosebud) 10 years ago and hurt people's ears...and now I'm back hurting people's ears here today." He wasn't kidding--this is probably one of the loudest shows I've been to what with all the bass-heavy accompaniment, pounding drums, and Folds thrashing at the low notes on the keyboard.

Openers Miniature Tigers provided short, tuneful songs with nice harmonies and catchy choruses; favorites were "Dino Damage" and "Tell It to the Volcano," the calypso-feel title track to their August 2008 album. Despite ending on a bit of a bland note, the Tigers were quirky and engaging. Frontman Charlie Brand announced, "On the count of three, shout your favorite President!" After the noise cleared, a crowd member shouted, "Who's your favorite first lady?" "Michelle O-ba-ma!" Brand retorted.

Next up was Carnegie Mellon's men's a capella group, The Originals, who provided renditions of Foreigner's "Jukebox Hero," "Hate" by the Plain White T's, and Ben Folds' "Rockin' the Suburbs." The group was difficult to hear at times because of the way they were miked; nonetheless it was a fun, spirited prequel to the big show. (Later on, Folds revealed that he is putting together an album of cover songs as performed by collegiate a capella groups from across the country.)

Folds, in an orange striped polo shirt and his signature big dorky glasses, entered the stage with his band, plowing through "Effington" and "Brainwascht" before addressing the crowd: "I'll always remember my climb up Mount Motherfucker...which was apparently renamed Mount Washington," he told the audience, and later dedicated the song "Free Coffee" to "those who died climbing Mount Motherfucker."

Folds also told the tale of a recent concert in Germany, during which he "sucked so bad" that he started changing the words to “Free Coffee” to things like “strapped on my dildo” and “texting with my dick.” He then offered a demonstration of how he got the sounds for the song--two Altoids cans on the piano strings and a distortion pedal.

As Folds explained the mechanics behind "Free Coffee," he commented on how quiet the audience was; "No one even screamed, 'show me your dick.'" Of course, a random guy shouted out Folds' request, and a song was born: "It's always a dude/who says show me your dick," and so forth. Folds also played a little Pittsburgh improv tune after recounting his visits to Jerry’s Records and Pamela’s Diner in Squirrel Hill.

Much of Folds' set drew from his latest album, Way To Normal. "You Don't Know Me," the album's single featuring Regina Spektor, still fared well without her. "Kylie from Connecticut" was a bit dull, but I was pleased that Folds graced the crowd with "Cologne," a simple but stunning track.

He also played "illegitimate" versions of "Dr. Yang" and "Bitch Went Nuts," renditions found on a new release of B sides from Way To Normal entitled Seeds and Stems. The album also contains Way to Normal's missing title track, which Folds played complete with prog-rock style intro.

High points of the show were "Fred Jones Part 2," a lonely tale of man who gets laid off after 25 years at his job, which Folds played solo, and "Kate," a Ben Folds Five vintage that ended the set delightfully. Folds returned for an encore with the thundering "Fair" and his signature closer, "Not the Same," during which he conducts the audience to sing a minor chord. And although Folds didn't give in to crowd whims like "Rock This Bitch" and requests for his cover of Dr. Dre's "Bitches Ain't Shit," I left that night feeling very satisfied with what I'd heard.

Set list:

  1. Effington
  2. Brainwascht
  3. You Don’t Know Me
  4. Annie Waits
  5. Alice Childress
  6. Way to Normal
  7. Dr. Yang (stems and seeds version)
  8. Dr. Yang (album version)
  9. Before Cologne/Cologne
  10. You To Thank
  11. Landed
  12. Free Coffee
  13. Hiroshima
  14. Where's Summer B.?

    - Solo Set -
  15. Fred Jones Part 2
  16. Brick
  17. Lullabye
  18. Emaline

  19. Kylie from Connecticut
  20. Zak and Sara
  21. Rockin’ the Suburbs
  22. Bitch Went Nuts (seeds and stems version)
  23. Army
  24. Kate


  1. Fair
  2. Not the Same
P.S. Sorry for the lack of photos, readers: I was stuck behind a speaker for the show :(



Scott said...

Sounds like a good show.

I would've yelled out "Millard Fillmore!"

-ben said...

I stole your setlist for my review :]. This was a great show, yours is a great blog.