SLCR #166: Ben Folds with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (March 29, 2012)

Can I type well enough on an iPad to write a concert review?

Can I sleep? (No.) So I may as well try.

What does this thing autocorrect “SLCR” into? Evidently nothing, or “slur” if you write it in lowercase.

I am lying awake in a bed in a motel in Edmonton. I have lots of family in this town, but apart from funerals, it seems that all of my Edmonton trips involve me driving into town, poking around West Edmonton Mall despite there being little of interest there, going to a show, sleeping, and leaving. I don’t feel right taking advantage of someone’s hospitality if I’m not going to spend any time actually visiting. So I hotel it up, always at the same Super 8-slash-truckstop because one time, Dave booked a room for us here because we were going to wrestling and the Super 8 was centrally located between the big mall and the arena. That’s how I make my life decisions: go with what someone else chose for me over a decade ago under different circumstances.

Yesterday’s concert was John K. Samson, the lead singer of The Weakerthans, but since I told my Edmonton history, I may as well talk about Ben Folds instead, since that’s why I’m here. I wonder if there’s a precedent for writing concert reviews out of order? I know I’ve never posted them out of order. If only I wasn’t too lazy to call the front desk and get a Wi-Fi passcode, I could look these things up. Or, more likely, I’d read a bunch of garbage from my Google Reader instead of doing this.

So far, this is no more annoying than typing on the netbook used to be. Check that – editing is a slower process, and using anything beyond the most basic punctuation is a bit of a drag.

I’d seen Ben Folds once before, in Fargo, an eight-hour drive from Regina. Edmonton is also an eight-hour drive from Regina. Mayhaps my city has a force field. You’d think he’d like it there; its pun potential really is unparalleled.

Regina also has a symphony orchestra. When I found out that Folds was going to be playing with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, I immediately began my campaign to bring him to Regina. I did this by asking the Regina Symphony nicely via Twitter. I am sad to report that social media has disappointed me for the first time, and the Regina Symphony was not willing to rearrange their schedule at the last minute at great expense in order to satisfy my whim.

I might even have said “please.” If not, I blame the character limit.

Still stinging from the rejection, I made the long drive from Regina to Edmonton, filled with memories of that Fargo show. It had been worth the drive, but a symphony show is a different beast. By its very nature, it has to be more structured, with less room for playing around. I have the DVD that Folds released of his shows with the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra. I haven’t watched it in a while, and when I got this ticket, I intentionally avoided so much as looking at the track list because I was expecting a lot of similarities.

I found the Super 8 on the first try. You’d think I’d have that pretty much cased by now, but you don’t know of my legendary ability to get lost in my own house. I also found the mall on the first try. The Winspear Centre, on the other hand, that one took some doing. The Google Maps map was actually pretty accurate, but some badly timed glare meant a lot of extra driving around for me. I only tried to go the wrong way down one one-way street, so that was a success.

The venue, it should be noted, is beautiful. Similar in size and function to the Conexus Arts Centre in Regina or TCU Place in Saskatoon, but much more attractive. I felt underdressed. I probably should have considered that this was an actual symphony concert and not just a rock show. But then the conductor took the stage via bicycle, so maybe I need not worry.

I drive eight hours to see Ben Folds because he rarely comes to Canada. I think this is the first show of his that I’ve heard of outside Toronto or Vancouver. Judging by the crowd reaction, a full tour is long overdue. The guy got a standing ovation just for showing up, opening notes of songs got raucous applause, and the crowd knew to sing the horn section of Army without being prompted.

Looking now at the track list for that DVD, I am delighted to see that we got a lot of new songs. As with that show, he opened with Zak and Sara and followed that up with Smoke, and the encore was still The Luckiest, but there was a lot of new stuff in there. Some of the songs hadn’t been released when that DVD came out, including Jesusland, Picture Window, Cologne, Landed, and Effington, which featured an eight-person choir singing “If there’s a god, he’s laughing at us and our football team.” That same choir also sang the “kiss my ass kiss my ass goodbye now” part of One Angry Dwarf & 200 Solemn Faces, which might make them the best choir ever.

At one point, as happens at every Ben Folds show, someone yelled out “ROCK THIS BITCH!” Someone else responded with “NEVER AGAIN!” I laughed. I don’t know if Folds was serious with his threat to quit playing Rock This Bitch (basically, music and lyrics made up on the spot) but I’ve seen him twice and he’s done it twice. He started by giving the different instruments melodies to play, then ramped it up. The saxophones were instructed to “just do whatever you feel like.” The final version involved a mariachi trumpet solo, a tympani solo, the choir (of course), and  lyrics along the lines of “this is what happens when you give the piano guy an orchestra in Edmonton.” This was all great fun and everyone loved it, treating Ben and the orchestra to a raucous ovation. “That was the perfect lead-in for what’s coming up next,” said Folds, and you’ve never heard to opening notes of a song about a teenager’s abortion greeted with so much laughter.

In between songs, Folds confirmed that there will be a new Ben Folds Five album before the year is up, and he talked about the histories of some of the songs, but mostly he just tried to deal with the people yelling WOOOO and WE LOVE YOU BEN and whatnot. I cannot stress enough just how bonkers this crowd was. Dude was BELOVED.

There were two sets of just under an hour each, followed by the “surprise” encore (“It’s just a coincidence that they all have sheet music ready to go.”). Then Ben left, and then the orchestra left, and then I left. I was halfway through the lobby when people started making noise about Ben coming back, so I snuck back in to catch the second encore, which was just Ben and his piano for a few songs, including Army and Annie Waits. And once he was done those, I waited for the lights to come up before leaving because I was taking no chances.

Do I need to say this was fantastic? Because it totally was. Songs I love, expertly played (Folds really is an amazing pianist and I didn’t even talk about the orchestra, who were great, and some of the arrangements of the songs were really interesting, like there was one where I was sure the choir was singing, but they weren’t, it was all the instruments, and that was neat, and one of the songs had really cool percussion parts and I’m sad I can’t remember the specific song right now and I am not editing this sentence because it is now very late and editing things on the iPad is not what I want to be doing and sure I will email this to myself later for final editing before I send it into the world but I am not going to fix this part because it has become a matter of pride or principle or something) and an audience who was thrilled just to be there and their enthusiasm elevated everything from start to finish. I’m calling it: better than Fargo, and I liked that show a lot.

I meant the concert I saw there, but really, that sentence works just as well if you assume I’m talking about the movie.

Put yer words here:

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