While it is nothing new for artists with a back catalogue as well performed as Ben Folds to mix things up with an orchestral flourish; it is always a welcomed development when it is done well.
Staged in the stately surrounds of QPAC’s Concert Hall (11 March), his performance alongside the Queensland Symphony Orchestra produced a warm and nostalgic evening, tinged with a hint of sadness that can sometimes spring from the lyrics of this American storyteller.
However, things kicked off with a twist, with orchestra conductor Nicholas Buc launching the concert by signing the opening lines of ‘Effington’: “If there's a God, he is laughing at us; and our football team.”
Scheduled to be a two-hour set (with an interval), Folds and the orchestra proceeded to play re-imaginings of a selected handful of his hits, including ‘Capable Of Anything’, ‘Gracie’, ‘Jesusland’ and fan favourite ‘Still Fighting It‘.
Perhaps it was the austere surroundings or simply a sign of the collective age of the crowd, but the welling urge to belt out the chorus was suppressed to an accompanying whisper by this reviewer; but by the song’s end, it seems there were a few with the same urge, as there was a strong burst of applause.
However, things got 'looser' after the interval, with the obligatory, customary, and in this case objectively beautiful ‘rock this bitch’ section of the performance.
After explaining to the Orchestra (and by proxy, the audience) the backstory behind why he was 'heckled' with a request to ‘rock this bitch’, Folds proceeded to build a song from scratch before our eyes and ears, incorporating firstly the cellos and then moving through the instruments until eventually the full orchestra in his free style.
On this night, the inspiration was contrabassoonist Claire Ramuscak having a birthday. This led to more audience participation, with Folds, somewhat unfairly, asking the audience to sing the part of Regina Spektor in ‘You Don’t Know Me’. He also broke the audience into three sections to harmonise in ‘Not The Same’.
One of the country’s favourite 'adopted Aussies', the pop-rock star will always hold a special place in antipodean hearts, and Australia is a place he holds dear – he performed a special arrangement of ‘Still Call Australia Home’ to help continue to shine a light in the aftermath of the bushfire crisis.
Folds specially asked the crowd to break house rules and record this section of the performance, so footage could be sent back to him and stitched together to be part of an awareness campaign.
The audience eagerly obliged and it was just another way that this performance left a warm feeling in the air, as not only did he share his songs, but the stories behind them on how they were written or what inspired them into being.
Ben Folds: The Symphonic Tour continues at QPAC’s Concert Hall tonight (12 March), with further shows planned in Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne.