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Ben Folds, live at Vicar Street, Dublin

The problem with a venue with at least three bars is that everyone’s either getting up to get more pints are shuffling off to the can to unload them again. Which means that me, with my big legs and open aisle seat, gets trod on. Repeatedly. By the time a gaggle of girls (all wearing same clothing) had gone off to the bar/can for the second time in 30 minutes, I was getting pissed, as in annoyed. My thinking is: when I pay to see an artist I like, I give him/her my fullest attention. I wanna capture the whole performance. I expect other to pay similar attention, and if I was up onstage I’d demand nothing less (of course, magnetic performance a prerequisite). Actually, up on stage is the only place where the hell-is-others aspect of the audience doesn’t get to one. Problem is: most international acts either play Vicar Street or The Point or the RDS, the latter two just sound-dead halls, so I gotta put up with the shit and mild to poor acoustics and wear steelcaps. And get real pissed like everyone else. Because nothing is enjoyable unless you are pissed.

Anyhoo, the Benster. He’s built himself one of the best trios I’ve ever seen live. The original (massively delayed) gig had him billed solo with piano, but thankfully he brought a band. And obviously drilled them to tight perfection. And made sure they could sing harmonies. Jared Reynolds is a great bassist (and a Nashville session man) and he’s got one of the best bass distortion tones I’ve heard in a while (that’s some Big Muff) – much nicer and rounder than the original BF Five dude with the Gibson basses. Although he played mostly pick when he’s a fingers man – not sure if playing against a piano calls for that all the time: that hard pluck as opposed to the soft attack. I’m sure that a bit of tone fiddling could have provided a similar sound. Anyhoo, he’s the kind of bassplayer I aspire to: song-oriented, excellent backing, solid without any pretentious horseshit. Like Adam Clayton, who I’ve been rediscovering lately; it’s a bass style I enjoy immensely precisely because it is song foundation, groove and interplay with the drums. It’s a particular kind of bass personality, a particularly bass personality, easygoing and brotherly in a musical sense, listening yet lyrical.

An aspect of Ben’s songwriting that comes out strongly in the live/performance context: his great dynamics. Call it contour or song balance, but it came out even clearer in the trio format: every song has its own variety of pace. Never just verse/chorus/verse or soft/loud soft/loud, his voicings are always interesting in range and contour. A trio with guitar instead of piano as main harmonic driver would obviously sound far more limited. The solid two-hour set didn’t flag for a second (even the lame-ass music teacher standing on the piano and conducting the crowd singalong (with horn parts) had some musical value). The 4 solo songs were good; the cover of Dr Dre’s Bitches Ain’t Shit (media player link) was hilarious and gentle (‘that’s some real conversation for your ass’). The new songs didn’t sound as strong as the material off Rockin the Suburbs – 'Jesusland' being one exception. Certainly the audience responded strongest to the old songs (the familiar old ShithouseNewStuff theorem). Add to the fact songs about people and stories, and a piano style that is in turn rhythmic, melodic and vicious, and a good drummer who doesn’t need to play 24/7 to enjoy the groove (Lindsay Jamieson) and you’ve got an excellent pop performance. And of course he threw his stool at the piano (again). Great gig.

posted by rino breebaart  # 12:13 pm
The problem being that most people see going out as going out, whether they're trying to make themselves heard over doof-doof in a club or whether there happens to be someone trying to communicate with them on a stage. And isn't it funny that the artist would assume the crowd would want to hear them, considering they bought tickets and everything. But then, like you said, it don't mean a thing if you're not monstrously drunk by show's end. Let the applause begin!

He'll never be Randy Newman, though.

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Alternatively, read about it at: The Slow Review or the long blog. Or even Nurture Health

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