Opening Night Pops Combines Classic Orchestra With Rocker Pianist

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: The May 15 review of Ben Fold's Boston Pops concert inaccurately attributes the song "Zak and Sara" to the band Ben Folds Five. The song actually appeared in Folds' first solo album Rockin' the Suburbs.

Boston Pops w/Ben Folds

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Symphony Hall

Every year the opening of the Boston Pops is hailed as a special event. This year Ben Folds performed eight of his original tunes with the orchestra in an amazingly inventive and collaborative performance.

The night began with the orchestra playing Dvorák’s Carnival (Overture), a triumphant piece to welcome in the opening of the Pops’ summer season. After Carnival, the audience was soothed with some beautiful film/Broadway melodies in a “Tribute to Oscar and Tony,” including a sampling of themes from “The Sound of Music,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Gigi,” and “Chicago.” Conducted by Keith Lockhart, these more popular songs from the twentieth century provided the perfect segue to the night’s featured performer, Ben Folds.

Folds opened with “Zak and Sara,” a classic from the band he’s most famous for, Ben Folds Five. The orchestral arrangement was beautifully written and executed. While the strings mirrored the elegant piano arpeggios that begin the song, the basses, horns and percussion section provided the strong backing that the other two members of Ben Folds’ band normally would.

Folds then skipped years ahead to perform “Jesusland,” a song from his newest album Songs for Silverman. In this song about a cross-country trip he once took, Folds sang in a magnificent falsetto. Like a veteran rocker, he effortlessly sang and played this song. After “Jesusland,” Folds went on to play “Lullabye,” “Gracie,” “Not the Same,” “Steven’s Last Night in Town,” and his top ten hit of the 90s, “Brick,” all of which were accompanied by a superb orchestral backing. Finally, with Edgar Ernesto Ramírez on a second vocal part, Folds appropriately finished with “Narcolepsy,” a song as triumphant as Dvorák’s Carnival from the beginning of the night, but three times louder.

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the entire performance was the variety; the older audience was able to enjoy familiar film music while also getting exposure to more modern pieces. And for those who were only interested in seeing Ben Folds, they definitely got their money’s worth. To my surprise the venue did not limit Ben’s ability to express himself. Although he didn’t throw his stool at the piano like he’s done at nearly every rock concert he’s given, he did figure out ways to be profane and get away with it.

Before the concert Folds said about the Hall’s administration, “We had a talk about not saying ‘Fuck’ tonight. I was told … ‘stay on the page.’” However, when a few teenage girls from the Balcony started cheering and the college frat boys yelled for “Rock this Bitch!” Folds couldn’t resist. Spewing chords to Lockhart who relayed them to the orchestra, Folds played a three and a half minute free-jazz rendition of “Rock this Bitch,” something he’s been known to do from past performances with WASO (Western Australia Symphony Orchestra). Ben sang, “A minor, now E7, now A minor again … and now we rocked ‘this Bitch’ in Boston!” For “Not the Same,” Folds got the audience involved as he conducted us to sing along during sections of the piece.

On a whole, the performance was extremely entertaining. Hearing the beautiful sounds of an orchestra combined with the raw talent of an old piano-rocker was a unique experience that could not be easily matched. He was happy with the marriage too. “I really like my new band. We’ll call them Ben Folds 87.”