Although not all of the seats were filled, this grand old hall was the only one in Edinburgh in which Ben Folds’s current project would have flourished.
Ben Folds and yMusic | Rating: **** | Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Performing as part of a chamber pop group with the yMusic Ensemble, the 49-year-old North Carolina pianist and songwriter was flanked by a trio of string players and a trio of brass players, with a percussionist standing dutifully off to one side. Given room to reverberate around the space, the richness and quality of the playing and the arrangements rang out.
Such formal skill, of course, still doesn’t hide the fact that Folds is a writer whose songs exude punkish sarcasm and cute wordplay as much as they do emotive grace.
A bona fide pop star back in the late 1990s with the Ben Folds Five, he’s mellowed only partially – amid wistful tales of alienating the entire German music industry by roundly lying to their press, he revisited his old group with a tribute to his father and Muhammad Ali in Boxing, the downbeat Erase Me, a richly dramatic orchestral reworking of the phlegmatic Song For the Dumped and many others.
There were tracks, too, from So There, his recent album with yMusic, and he fielded a bunch of shouted solo requests including Eddie Walker and The Luckiest, which made for a tender change of pace.
From a well-delivered set, Not the Same’s finale stood out as something special, ending on a three-part harmonic hum delivered by the audience and orchestrated by Folds’s jerking hand movements – a true shivers-down-the-spine moment.