In honor of me turning 30, I made mix CDs of my favorite songs from each of my 30 favorite musical artists/groups. Read the introductory post for more background information on my 30 at 30 project. Reminder: there is no scientific rationale for this list. They’re simply my personal favorites. Coming in at number 6 is Ben Folds.
Depending on your age, you might know Ben Folds as the sarcastic and sometimes sophomoric frontman of 90s alt-rock band Ben Folds Five or as the bespectacled, dorky dad who critiques people’s singing on NBC’s The Sing-Off. Somewhere between those two benchmarks Folds became one of the most influential musicians in my life.
Like most people my age, my introduction to Folds came in the form of the 1997 Ben Folds Five hit “Brick.” However, it wasn’t until I listened to songs from 2001’s Rockin’ the Suburbs, specifically versions played on a piano in a Mercyhurst College practice room by a young Jessie Badach on a spring evening in 2005, that I became a full-fledged Folds fan.
After that night with Jessie, I began catching up on everything in Folds’ discography, including the fabulous Ben Folds Live album he released in 2002. Upon listening through that album many times, it was undeniable. I had to see Ben Folds live in concert. Correction: I had to see Ben Folds live in concert with Jessie. As luck would have it, Folds was coming to the Promowest Pavilion in Columbus, Ohio, later that summer. As soon as that tour date was announced, I purchased the tickets online.
However, I failed to account for one minor detail. Jessie’s parents were not too keen on the idea of their fresh-out-of-high-school, 17-year-old daughter traveling across state lines to see a concert with a college boy. In hindsight, I totally understand their skepticism, but at the time I was devastated. But I’m one of the good ones, I thought to myself. If they actually knew me, they wouldn’t hesitate to trust me, I reasoned. Looking back with my current day wisdom, I can see the fault in my argument, but back then at 20 years old I was nearly inconsolable. Rather than find another friend to attend the concert with me, I protested and stayed home. I still have the ticket to this day! Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. Less than three months after the concert that wasn’t for Jessie and me, Ben Folds headlined a show at Allegheny College, where Jessie was a freshman. As a birthday gift, Jessie got me a ticket, and we were the first people in line for the show, which earned us a front row spot for the concert. As expected, my appreciation for Folds’ music only grew after seeing him perform live.
Following in the tradition of Elton John and Billy Joel, Folds is a masterful pianist and clever songwriter. His crowd-pleasing personality makes for a very entertaining performance on stage, as he enjoys and even encourages crowd participation at many points during the show. His engaging, interactive, sometimes improvisational approach made for some memorable moments. The two tracks that made it onto my compilation from Ben Folds Live are good examples of what makes Folds so fun to see in concert. “Rock This B—-“, which clocks in at just 1:17 is an improvisational little ditty that Folds has probably played hundreds of different ways over the years. Then there’s “Army”, one of my favorite tracks, which features an incredible, vocal audience that Folds splits in two to fill in for the missing saxophones and trumpets that can be heard on the studio recording. Continue reading 6. Ben Folds