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ISSUE 118 VOL 4 PUBLISHED 10/8/2004

Singer Ben Folds, a full house

By Daniel Grupe
Staff Writer

Friday, October 8, 2004

A sold-out crowd of 3,000 St. Olaf students and other guests packed Skoglund Auditorium on Saturday night to rock out to the piano prowess and vocal stylings of Ben Folds. The emotionally-charged show kept the audience on their feet and begging for more after Folds finished his electrifying set.

The opening act for Folds was The Vestals, a Minneapolis-based alt-pop group. Brothers Ben and Jeremy Gordon played a brief set that was vastly unappreciated by the utterly unenthused audience, few of whom seemed to notice or care that the Astronaut Pushers had been removed from the bill.

The Vestals charming vocal harmonies, while difficult to hear over the din of the crowd, were combined with the simplicity of two acoustic guitars to evoke feelings of Rufus Wainwright or a stripped-down Beatles set.

After a surprisingly short intermission, Ben Folds, flanked by his bassist Jared and drummer Lindsay, took the stage at just after 9 p.m. to the deafening cheers of the anxious crowd. Folds latest album and his previous tours have been solo efforts, but he added accompanying musicians on this tour and his upcoming album, due out in January, to provide a fuller and more energetic sound.

That sound was immediately apparent on The Cure cover In Between Days, a raucous opener that instantly energized the crowd. Folds followed that song with the crowd-pleaser Gone before launching into several new songs from his upcoming album. While this new music inspired less excitement from the crowd, which was obviously more familiar with and partial to the older material, Folds still played it with impenetrable zest.

A trio of songs from Folds debut solo CD, Rocking the Suburbs, gave the audience the familiarity they were waiting for.

On the title track from that album, Folds demonstrated his ability to modify a thoroughly electric song into a satisfyingly upbeat acoustic version.

Throughout this and other songs, Folds hovered between sitting and standing positions, seemingly repelled from the bench yet unable to separate himself from the powerful grip of the piano keys.

After playing the poignant tunes Fred Jones Part 2 and Eddie Walker alone at the piano, Ben involved the crowd on the Ben Folds Five hit Army, dividing them up into saxophone and horn sections for the refrain.

On his recent release Theres Always Someone Cooler than You, Folds seemed to be performing chest compressions on the piano. His violent motions toward the keyboard suggested an impending cacophonous clatter of noise. The resulting music, somewhat miraculously, was wonderfully melodic and impeccably played. Folds displayed the talent of a piano virtuoso with the enthusiasm of the rock n roll star that he is.

Folds combination of creativity and ridiculous talent on the piano is unmatched by any similar musician today, if a similar musician can even be found.

After a tribute to the late Elliot Smith and an explosive cover of Get Your Hands off of My Woman by The Darkness, Folds finished his set with the powerful Not the Same. He divided the crowd up into three-part harmony for the chorus, which he directed while playing piano.

The set ended with Folds standing on tiptoe atop his full grand piano, urging the crowd to hold the final beautiful chord of the song before cutting it off and exiting the stage.

Folds and his musicians were unable to leave without a quick encore, consisting of the brilliant Philosophy and the rollicking One Angry Dwarf.

Though the crowd clamored for more, Folds was already off the stage and presumably on the way to his next show, to be played Sunday at West Virginia University. His whirlwind college tour includes dates on six consecutive nights from Maine to Oklahoma.

The latter show, scheduled for Friday night, had to be cancelled at the last minute due to an insufficient sound system. According to Pause Co-Coordinator Aram Desteian 05 and Concert Committee Chair Mary Henry 06, four die-hard fans drove to Northfield from Oklahoma (after driving to Oklahoma from Denver) in a desperate attempt to see Folds perform.

After arriving at Skoglund at 10 a.m., they were able to secure tickets for the show.

Others, however, were not so lucky; 100 to 150 people were turned away at the door after the limit of 3,000 tickets was sold.

I dont think weve ever sold all 3,000 tickets before, Desteian said.

About 2,000 were sold to students, with the remaining 1,000 selling out in a week and a half of phone sales.

More people [compared to past fall concerts] came because they actually really wanted to see Ben [not just come to a show], Desteian said.

All who came, whether they were lifelong fans or casual observers, were treated to a dynamite show from a performer whose stellar combination of talent and showmanship is matched by few others in the music industry.

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