By Laura Paesano
On September 30, the day that Ben Folds’ new album dropped, I had the good fortune to see him at Terminal 5 in Manhattan. I’ve been a fan of his since he was praying Whatever and Ever Amen, but if the last thing you heard Ben Folds sing was “She’s a brick and I’m drowning slowly,” you’re missing out. The man’s had four solo releases since he subtracted the Five and he’s just warming up.
This tour, his shows start with an opening set by singer/songwriter Missy Higgins (Australian for chick music). She’s sort of like the less angry, Down Under version of Ani DiFranco. If you like barefoot girls and breathy vocalizing, give her a listen. Then the man who rocked the suburbs in 2001 came onstage to meet his crowd of adoring, slightly drunk, hipster fans.
A Ben Folds show is always a blast because he gets his crowd involved. He’ll get you to participate far more readily than any professor in a Javits lecture hall ever will. As any concert-goer knows, there’s a balance that must be kept among songs that an artist plays: new shit vs. old shit. Folds treads the fine line between promoting his new music and satisfying the old school fans who came to hear “Song for the Dumped.”
Ben Folds’ onstage performances normally include keytars, a ferocious attack on a helpless piano and some white boy dancing. On this tour, he doesn’t disappoint. His new sets, however, feature something they never have before, a bunch of fake songs. Back in July, Mr. Folds recorded an album of fake tracks and leaked it himself to throw the record sniffers off the trail. It worked, both fooling and satiating the hungry hipster horde. What he’s left with is having to explain which of his songs are real, and which aren’t actually on the album.
The real record is called Way to Normal and it’s in stores and on iTunes now (and even on vinyl for you music snobs out there). It is a cohesive and fluid geek rock rollercoaster complete with love songs, hate songs and Folds’ patented brand of sarcastic wordplay. It’s also less depressing than 2005’s Songs for Silverman, so you can put away your hankie. The most radio friendly track may be “You Don’t Know Me,”
featuring the vocal stylings of cocaine addict Regina Spektor and a video directed by and starring Tim and Eric of Adult Swim’s Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job. The least radio friendly but definitely the most fun, is “Bitch Went Nuts,” a song about the rampage of a pissed off ex-girlfriend. “Cologne” is the song you can weep to when you just need a good cry, or if you’re feeling philosophical, you can tune into “Frown Song,” an up-tempo diatribe about spiritual wannabes and America’s hypocritical hippy subculture.
All in all, Way to Normal is a quality album from a unique and talented veteran musician who still has something new to say with every release. If you’re an artsy boy with black-framed glasses and tight pants, check him out. If you’re a girl with big sunglasses who wears scarves in the summer, you’ll love it. If you’re that band geek who plays trombone and always wanted to say “fuck you” to your dad, jump on the Ben Folds wagon. And if you’re the Asian Gangster, well, you probably won’t like it, but it might do you some good. God only knows what you’re listening to under that shadowy hood. If you ever want a musical re-education, my friend, I’ll be happy to make you a mix tape. See you in the Commuter Lounge.