Ben Folds emanates a magnetic nerd-rock charisma that allows himself to orchestrate audiences with the same dexterity that his fingers have upon his piano keys. A Sunday night at Stubb’s in Austin saw Ben Folds curate a festive and sing-a-long type of atmosphere for his legions of followers. While Folds experienced his meteoric rise into the public eye with his band, Ben Folds Five, his Austin performance on Sunday sampled heavily from long and fruitful solo career.
Hinting at the recent flooding in Texas, “Phone In a Pool” was an ironic opening song, which, coupled along with “Annie Waits”, brought the audience into the ‘fold’ (pardon the pun) in a major way. The name of the tour, ‘Paper Airplane Request,’ was an apt title for a show that routinely saw Ben go off on a whim and play a slew of cover songs like “Free Bird”, ”Bitches Ain’t Shit,” and a plethora of others.
Southern charm and humility define Ben’s personality, which leads to an endearing dynamic where fans find him to be more of a talented friend than some inaccessible rock star icon. The discourse between Ben and the crowd was seamless and hilarious, even when drunks would veer into an awkward jaunt or comment, Ben would rescue the mood with a witty barb.
Uplifting tracks like “Landed”, “So There”, and “Capable of Anything” were highlights from Ben’s solo years, while the real nostalgia flooded in with the Ben Folds Five contributions “Song For the Dumped”, “Emaline”, and “Best Imitation of Myself.” It is a testament to the songwriting and Ben’s stage presence that a trio of musicians can make a stripped down set-up sound as bombastic and fulfilling as they do.
Ben held sway over a crowd that included 50-year-olds just starting to gray, teenagers who were just tapping into the rebellious element, and an eclectic group of die-hard fans who all knew every word to each song. With an encore and “Bohemian Rhapsody”-style performance of “Army”, the show had come to a fever-pitch crescendo. Eccentric, quirky, and intimidatingly talented, Ben Folds proved himself, once again, to be the piano showman of our generation, the Joel or Elton for all of us who grew up in the 90’s or 2000’s.