TOWARDS the end of this two hour solo show, Ben Folds took a surprising detour from the expected repertoire of smart, funny, sensitive indie piano pop he’d been playing up until that point. His road crew darted from the wings and assembled, with lightning speed, a drum-kit, upon which he performed a wild virtuoso solo. This, clearly, is a man who understands the value of showmanship.
Ben Folds, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****
Like Elton John, Folds knows that, no matter how strong their material is, a piano-based singer-songwriter lacks sustained dramatic interest. You need to jazz things up. That’s why he tells amusing stories, teaches the audience to sing four-part harmony – the results, with Folds conducting like a groovy music teacher, were sweetly shambolic – and turns his piano into an emotional assault weapon.
He can play with real grace and tenderness, but he also summons dissonant thunderclaps by hammering the bass keys at judicious intervals.
He’s also fond of improvising songs to suit the occasion; tonight he created an enjoyably rambling ditty about someone kindly giving him a copy of Belle & Sebastian’s then rare Tigermilk LP after an early show at Glasgow’s King Tut’s.
If Folds wasn’t so darn genial, this would look like showing off. His penchant for sarcastic nerd satirical songs – eg Rockin’ The Suburbs – would be insufferable if he didn’t choose valid targets, wrap them in killer tunes and balance them with touchingly heartfelt, ten-tiered wedding cakes like Landed and The Luckiest.
A Ben Folds show is an irresistible tightrope walk.