There are a plethora of reasons Ben Folds lured a crowd big enough to fill the Sydney Opera House, but a new album and the promise of new songs was not one of them. His large and devout fan base filled seats across the venue, prepared to see what the showman would bring to the table.
A sparkling grand piano adorned the stage, and Folds walked out and greeted the audience with a humble wave and bashful smile. Although he’d graced stages with full orchestras and a cappella choirs, it was clear that the night would have a touch more intimacy. Right away, the North Carolina native divulged into his solo tracks “You Don’t Know Me”, “Landed”, and “Uncle Walter”. Slamming his foot heavily on the pedal of the Steinway piano, he created a sort of honky-tonk sound that made up for the lack of percussion accompaniment.
The lack of a full band did not deter the audience’s eagerness to chime in and participate, with plenty of opportune moments of chanting back lyrics and singing along. Folds even nonchalantly conducted the crowd, inducing a four-part harmony during “Bastard”. Between these songs, he shared personal anecdotes with his slightly geeky yet comical timing.
Concluding the first half of the show with “Stephen’s Last Night in Town”, Folds unexpectedly closed with a drum solo, after the kit was assembled piece by piece before the audience’s eyes. Folds’ impressive chops were a testament to his impressive and expansive repertoire, and got the audience riled up for the second half of the show.
He then instructed everyone to collect paper from the foyer and jot down song requests, to be folded into paper aeroplanes upon completion. Many audience members prolonged the process and scurried in late, launching their planes across the stage long after the countdown. Picking 10 different aeroplanes, Folds played the requested songs as promised.
Several lingering planes still launched on stage during his first pick “The Luckiest”, and the heartfelt song became filled with cheers and laughs — noted by Folds as being the longest plane-throwing period he’d witnessed. Once the air cleared, Folds dove into songs like “Underground”, “Best Imitation of Myself Philosophy”, “Song for the Dumped”, and, “Emaline”. Performing these group songs solo was a true treat.
Although he left out a few fan faves, the piano man didn’t leave the audience without a satisfying encore of “Army” and “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces”. As smooth as his entrance, Ben humbly bid farewell to the crowd and vanished behind the velvet curtains, leaving the snow-like covered stage of aeroplanes to be casually swept away — their contents kept forever a secret.
Photos by Rae Sturm.