Words Leo Koziel/ Photo Brad Holland Vault Media
American Nineties alt-pop rocker Ben Folds brought out the fanboys and fangirls to a packed house at Powerstation last night. He rolled out the hits, as well as some more obscure songs both from his deep back catalogue and also his most recent 2015 album “So There.”
On the night, he was supported by Brit singer-songwriter Lucy Rose who also did impromptu guest vocals on one of the songs. The format of the show was a “paper airplane request tour” – the first half was a setlist, then the second half was requests from the audience written on paper airplanes sent on to the stage.
I’ve seen Ben Folds live once before, in Sydney back in 2011 in a packed State Theatre. Ben’s following in Oz is significant, particularly since he’d lived there for many years with then wife Frally Hanes and their twin children. Yet somehow he’d never made the journey over to New Zealand, so seeing Ben Folds here in Auckland – particularly in a more intimate venue like Powerstation – promised something special.
Ben Folds delivered back in 2011, and last night’s show at Powerstation showed he’s still got it and not slowing down. He’s a powerful and masterful pianist, he chatted and connected at length with a rapt crowd, and was playful and delightful when it came to the request component of the show.
He even mashed up “Rock this Bitch” with a new song concept “Here in New Zealand with Bin” making fun of our Kiwi accents and delighting the crowd. Perhaps he’d thought of the idea halfway through the show when a rather loud audience member yelled “Bin You’re A Bloody Legend!” much to everyone’s enjoyment (I think it was the same guy who at one point requested Ben sing “Tutira Mai Ngā Iwi”).
It was a mostly 20-something and 30-something crowd but you could see the connection the audience had with his work, whatever their age. At one point he had the audience doing four-part choral harmonies as he conducted from the stage. For most of the rest of the night the audience hardly needed his prompting as they sang along and hummed along to tunes known so well by all – he could hardly skip a beat when at the start the front rows tuned in and jumped in on the songs, words and hums. It must be a joy for any performer to see such familiarity from an audience, and last night Ben lapped it up.
Ben didn’t shy from digging down into his earlier works, the Ben Folds Five days when his band was an MTV fave of the Nineties. He told the back stories to “Zak and Sara” and “Rent A Cop” at length, yet at no point did the show drag or did the audience lose interest away from the songs. And how could you not be, with such a long list of previous hits and catchy tunes and regular breakouts into mesmerising piano jams and mash ups – Hava Nagila a particular highlight!
Bin Folds, you are a bloody legend, and here in Kiwi-land you are loved. I saw that when the paper airplanes flew en masse at half time on stage. What a joy to be at a show with an audience so entranced by the entertainer and so knowledgeable and respectful of his deep collection of creative works. The guy standing next to me requested “Philosophy” and was chatting hopefully with his mate at the start of the show – and he and the audience lit up when Ben hit the first bars of that classic song after picking up one of the paper planes.
The night closed out with “Rocking the Suburbs”, preceded by Ben’s lengthy telling of how his band was once compared unfavourably to Korn in the 1990s. Ben Fold’s wit, intellect and humour shone through the entire night, so what better song to close off the night to a rapt and sated audience.