Pillbox

Ben Folds entertains crowd at Club Zoo

Ben Folds plays at Club Zoo this past Thursday. His high-energy performance, while not perfect, showcased his skill and stage presence as he performed songs from his new album. (credit: Anna Walsh | Assistant Pillbox Editor) Ben Folds plays at Club Zoo this past Thursday. His high-energy performance, while not perfect, showcased his skill and stage presence as he performed songs from his new album. (credit: Anna Walsh | Assistant Pillbox Editor)

Songs about tambourine players, Bristol Palin’s boyfriend, a hallucinating music fan, and getting sleazy? You must be at a Ben Folds concert.

The last time Folds came to Pittsburgh, he performed in regal Heinz Hall with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. This past Thursday at his concert at Club Zoo, his location and accompaniment may have been less formal, but what it lacked in formality it made up for in energy and entertainment.

Folds came to Pittsburgh as part of his Lonely Avenue tour, promoting his new CD of the same name, for which British novelist Nick Hornby wrote the lyrics and Folds wrote the music. In honor of his new album, he began the show with a few of his new songs, including “A Working Day” and “Doc Pomus.” These unfortunately didn’t seem to catch the audience’s attention much, since most attendees appeared to be relatively unfamiliar with his new material. However, Folds recaptured their attention when he announced that, in preparation for the show, he had decided to do a cover of the No. 1 song on iTunes, which at the time was Ke$ha’s “Sleazy.” After solemnly explaining the song’s message, Folds broke into a cheery rendition of the song, featuring him rapping and playing the piano while his bandmates provided accompaniment with bright harmonies, percussion, and a glockenspiel.

After his Ke$ha cover, Folds started playing some older, more well-known songs, including “Still Fighting It” and “Gone,” all of which the audience greeted as though they were old friends. With each familiar song that Folds began to play, the audience members would cheer with recognition and begin singing along.

Folds was sometimes a little off-key in his singing, and his voice seemed to give out at a few moments in the show, but what he lacked in singing he made up for with his piano playing and entertaining stage presence. Occasionally he would break into improvisational piano solos between songs, or even in the middle of songs. After a performance of the song “Effington,” during which one of his band members dramatically played the tambourine, Folds started improvising a blues song about the tambourine. He also took time between songs to talk to the audience, stopping to explain the history behind several of his songs. He also confessed his love for Pittsburgh to the audience — he incorporated names of Pittsburgh neighborhoods into one of his songs and told a story about a clarinet-playing cab driver that he met in Pittsburgh. These interludes were still entertaining even though the sound system within the Zoo was not the highest quality, making it sometimes difficult to hear Folds speak.

At one point in the show, Folds’ four bandmates left the stage and Folds made up a song on the spot with a maraca and the piano. Then he played the loving ballads “Luckiest” and “Practical Amanda,” the latter of which Hornby had written for his wife.

After closing with a series of high-powered numbers, such as “Rockin’ The Suburbs,” “Army,” and a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” Folds left the stage, only to come back five minutes later due to the unceasing cheers of the crowd calling for an encore. Folds played a cover of “Bitches Ain’t Shit,” a Dr. Dre song, followed by the Ben Folds Five song “Underground.” Overall the show was an entertaining evening full of witty lyrics and high-energy music, both of which are concepts that Folds seems to have perfected.