Prior to Monday night, I wasn’t sure how I felt about attending Giant’s Spring Concert Series featuring Ben Folds. Sure, the suprisingly dude-ish 42-year-old is a reputable heavyweight when it comes to tickling the keys, but, stretched thin on just a few hours of sleep, I wasn’t exactly keen on hitting up a piano recital.
Thankfully though, Folds pulled out all the musical stops— including audience sing-a-longs, a homemade synthesizer rigged together with Altoid cans, and a sentimentally valuable shaker—and even brought along a few friends to flesh out his sarcastically tinged piano balladry.
Even before Folds and company took the stage though, opening act Jukebox the Ghost, a D.C.-based piano-pop trio, lit up Dodd Auditorium with an explosive set of quirky adrenaline-fueled pop songs about the Apocalypse.
The unique pairing of guitarist Tommy Seigel’s Book of Revelations-referencing lyrics with pianist Ben Thornewill’s classically trained chops coupled with the group’s penchant for theatrics fused into a contagious energy that set toes-tapping with more than just anticipation of Fold’s arrival. Their secret?
“Vitamin B12,” Seigel explained. “It’s our crack-cocaine.”
Despite a metal barrier and a small posse of sumo-sized, goatee-sporting bodyguards separating the band from the crowd, Jukebox the Ghost had nothing but praise for the enthusiasm of Mary Washington’s student body.
“The crowd was awesome. This was the first theatre-oriented show we’ve played on this tour where people in the auditorium actually stood up,” Seigel said.
Yet by the time U.Va. a capella group The Silhouettes harmonized and snapped their way through covers of Feist’s “1234” and Seal’s always relevant “Crazy,” the crowd was growing restless again.
When Folds finally took the stage, knees bent, poised like a sprinter in front of the grand piano, Dodd exploded into an uproar that didn’t wane for an hour and a half.
During that time, Folds performed a refreshing mix of fan favorites ranging from world-weary, sad-bastard staples “Still Fighting It” and appropriately titled “Bastard” to ironic yuppie anthems “Rockin’ The Suburbs” and “The Bitch Went Nuts.”
As usual with Folds, the line between sincerity and sarcasm became indistinguishable. When Folds unknowingly hit a campus nerve by describing a song’s protagonist as a conservative lawyer with an annoyingly talkative liberal girlfriend, the crowd seemed confused about whether to laugh or boo.
Folds, sporting a red pocket-tee and my grandfather’s over-sized reading glasses, didn’t seem to care one way or the other, delivering lines like “the bitch went nuts/ talking ‘bout vegatables” with an endearingly smug self-awareness that only added humorous undertones to his band’s already impressive musicianship.
Folds even adapted to his audience, grinning and nodding at the overly-enthusiastic head-bobbing in the front row while singing a line about pills that “make it possible for all white boys to dance.”
But the high-point of the evening didn’t arrive until Folds finally dropped the backing band and the irony for a dusting off of beloved Ben Fold’s Five classic, “Brick.”
Fold’s heartfelt rendition marked the only point of the night in which the audience threatened to drown out Fold’s twin towers of amplification.
Sophomore Gregg Disalvo was particularly impressed with Fold’s performance.
“Not only was he a great performer, but he was quick on his feet. I almost felt like there was a plant in the audience,” Disalvo said, referring to Folds’ impromptu rendition of “Free Bird” at an audience member’s suggestion.
Gradually warming up to the crowd, Folds’ humor grew in inverse relation to his tatted, gum-chewing bassist-foil, who, by the end of the concert, was blowing bubbles with the bored disinterest of a middle school delinquent.
Folds, on the other hand, was pacing feverishly across the stage by the grand finale, conducting the audience through a three-part vocal harmony with the wild abandon of a cracked-out high-school band director.
Granted, Folds may have sprouted a few gray hairs in the years since he first rocked suburbs all over America, but if his performance on Monday was any indication, Ben Folds is totally “Still Fighting It.”