Ben Folds Publicity Photo 1Ben Folds Publicity Photo 2Ben Folds Publicity Photo 3

The Luckiest

Ben Folds - Citizen Cope

Vic Theatre - Chicago

October 3, 2001

First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2001, Volume 8, #11

Written by John Metzger


Musicians are a funny lot. Sometimes they release a perfunctory album, but ego drives them to perform a majority of it in concert. Sometimes they release a great album, but insecurity permits them merely to pepper their set with its songs. It's rare, then, that an artist releases a tremendous album, and performs the bulk of it in concert. Rarer still is the audience that doesn't spend a majority of the set screaming for past hits.

Yet, on October 3, this is exactly how Ben Folds' concert at Chicago's Vic Theatre unfolded as he was lent considerable support by his fans. His 80-minute set was drawn entirely from his latest release Rockin' the Suburbs save for a pair of outtakes from the album and three classic Ben Folds Five tracks. For the most part, Folds and his new entourage which featured drummer Jim Bogios, guitarist Brett "Snuzz" Uzzell, and bass player Millard Powers remained faithful to the recorded renditions of the songs. On Fired, Folds explored moderately more jazzy terrain, while the band kept the song anchored to a powerful rock beat, and the new album's title track was slightly more frenetic and crazed, though not so much so that its message was lost. It wasn't until the encore a four-song mini-set that Folds turned to his past. In doing so, he opened up the material to looser interpretation, grinding out Song for the Dumped with his band and turning a solo performance of Kate into an audience sing-along.

Yet, much like Rockin' the Suburbs, this concert displayed a different version of Folds. Sure there were still moments when he joked around, slamming his piano stool into his keyboard and displaying his wit through humorous lyrics and between-song banter. After all, this was a rock concert, and it was meant to be fun. But this was also an artist now looking to be taken a little bit more seriously and deservedly so. There's always been more to Folds than initially meets the eye, and his latest batch of songs is unquestionably his strongest to date. The father/son exchange on Still Fighting It was a touchingly tender moment, and The Ascent of Stan which featured beautiful four-part harmonies hauntingly captured a subversive-turned-establishment lackey who has come to realize just how unsatisfying and empty life has become.

Taken as a whole, the suite of songs performed by Folds painted a stark portrait of life. Beneath their comical surfaces came tales of love gone awry (Gone and Hiro's Song), jobs that led to middle age stagnation (Fred Jones, Part Two and The Ascent of Stan), and opportunities that were never grasped (Annie Waits). Yet, there were also messages of hope (Still Fighting It). There were messages that while life sometimes may be difficult, it could always be worse (Rockin' the Suburbs). And most importantly, messages that life is a series of choices, and one need not necessarily follow some pre-ordained path (Make Me Mommy) to find happiness. It seems as if fatherhood has turned Folds more introspective than ever before, and in doing so, he has discovered an awful lot about himself and his pursuit of love and happiness. He sang The Luckiest like he meant it, making the gorgeous ballad into a song of utter contentment. Given the current state of the world, this is something that surely we all can comprehend.

Opener Clarence Greenwood a.k.a Citizen Cope found himself in a rather precarious Catch-22. Performing as a solo acoustic act, he was forced to compete with the audience. When playing along to an obnoxious tape of pre-recorded material, he turned himself into a dreadful karaoke act. Either way, his set struggled for direction.

Rockin' the Suburbs is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Copyright 2001 The Music Box