Ben Folds mixes clever storytelling and emotive songwriting at NON-COMM - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

NON-COMM 2023 is almost a wrap, and the night time sets ended on a soft note courtesy of Ben Folds charming solo set. Despite a self-proclaimed “brutal head cold,” Folds fought valiantly, performing  a mixture of hits and new songs slated for release on June 2nd as part of his next album What Matters Most.

Opening with “Exhausting Lover”, the lead single off of the aforementioned LP, it was instantly clear why his career has maintained longevity for over 30 years. Folds’ virtuosic piano talent coupled with a knack for storytelling and unhinged songwriting gives his stage persona an aura that is unmistakably his own. Such a commanding presence is essential, too, as without a backing band he has nothing to fill space or time other than his Steinway and the sound of his own voice.

Folds embraces and actively amplifies this minimalistic set-up, utilizing the extra space to explain the messages behind the new songs, becoming a pseudo stand-up comedian with tales of his hilarious songwriting escapades. The first song alone had the audience holding their chests with one-liners such as “as I run half-naked past a cracker barrel” and “My mind says no, my body says hell no!” Folds refused to let fans catch their breath, following up with another absurd tale taken from a news headline, explaining a couple that caught a home invader stealing their shoes who proceeded to cry, apologize to the homeowners, return the shoes, and offer them $250 after being caught in the act. The crowd cackled as he transitioned into “Kristine From The 7th Grade,” another adapted news article about an old friend turned stranger that relentlessly sends conspiracy theories to him. In fact, it’s difficult to choose between memorable lyrics and moments from the show, as Folds is such a naturally gifted showman.

His penultimate piece, “What Matters Most” was a unique outlier, however, taking a somber turn in dedication of actor and comedian Bob Saget, his dear friend of over 25 years. He likened this moment to looking through storage, reminiscing about old times with each artifact and memory found in the attic, beautifully summarized in the line “15 years tossed in an old box.”

Ending on a happy note, Folds rounded out the set with “You Don’t Know Me,” employing the audience to sing Regina Spektor’s parts, concluding the night with an enormous group call-and-response of “You don’t know me, you don’t know me at all.” The crowd’s final roaring applause was endearing, lasting long after Ben took his bow and exited the stage. To hear each wacky story, comedic punchline, and solemn piano ballad, check out What Matters Most, streaming everywhere on June 2nd.

Ben Folds
  • Exhausting Lover
  • Annie Waits
  • Kristine From The 7th Grade
  • Fragile
  • Winslow Gardens
  • Landed
  • What Matters Most
  • You Don’t Know Me
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