Despite an oppressive crowd and disappointing opener, Ben Folds continues to impress on stage
Issue date: 4/23/10 Section: Focus
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Admittedly, the night started out poorly, as the venue was sold out and packed with as many people as the fire marshals would allow, and the opening act was miserable. Nothing about Matt Pond PA's setlist was noteworthy, as they went through a repertoire of bland, repetitive songs that the audience did not want to hear. The only time they received any favorable response was during a solo by guitarist Chris Hansen: Pond chose to waste time by chugging a Heineken on stage, the only time he received actual applause from the audience that wasn't out of pity.
The setlist that Folds chose for his Cleveland performance allowed him to both reflect on and shuffle between each period of his career, effortlessly sliding between recent album tracks and more obscure audience suggestions. Not to ignore his earlier work, a few classic singles from his days with the Five were thrown in for good measure, including what Folds reckoned to be his third live performance of "Mess." The second half of the show allowed audience suggestions, which quickly devolved into a shouting match between "Angry Dwarfs" and "Emaline" supporters with a few "Army" sympathizers as well. With Folds's extensive back catalogue available, the audience gravitated towards many of the singles he had chosen to ignore, leading to an inspired performance of "Hiroshima."
Folds played a handful of new, unreleased songs including "Levi Johnston's Blues," a biographical song about a person "who lives to hang out with the boys, get on his snowboard, do some fishing, and kill some moose." In many ways, this early performance of "Blues" demonstrates a new side to Folds's songwriting. Folds's music has always had an ironic, understated humor aspect to it, but never before has he crafted a song that blatantly relies so much on topical humor. But its catchy melody ultimately redeemed the song, as did the lyrics taken verbatim from Levi's Myspace page.
The show's primary issue lay not with Folds but with a group of concertgoers who were spewing enough obscenities to make Folds's raucous lyrics sound bland in comparison. Audience participation has always been a trademark of songs such as "Army" and "Not the Same," but Folds took the higher ground and chose to ignore the hecklers, leading the audience in four-part harmony instead. In "Effington," Folds mused. "if there's a God, he's laughing at us and our football team." Judging by audience reaction during Folds's recent set at the House of Blues, there is some divine force looking favorably upon him, even if the crowd was teaming up to drown him out.