TVD Live: Ben Folds and yMusic at the Riviera Theatre, 5/13

PHOTOS: BRIGID GALLAGHER | I have seen Ben Folds too many times. I know this because I can see it people’s eyes when I tell them I’ve attended over twenty of Ben Folds’ concerts. Few people have given me a look of approval or expressed signs of jealousy. But in my heart I don’t feel this way. In my heart I know I can never see Mr. Folds enough.

Almost half of my life has been spent seeking out my next Folds concert. I have seen him indoors, outdoors, as Ben Folds Five, with just a piano, with symphonies, and bands. One time it started to rain and he sang a cappella to save his piano from getting wet. I’ve seen him play drums as each piece of the drum set was rapidly brought out to him during his solo. I’ve watched him with ballerinas twirling around him to the magic of his songs. In a gorgeous church he sang the line “I don’t believe in God” as though it was a lovely hymn. One night I saw him at Milwaukee’s Summerfest, the next in a church parking lot in Chicago.

Every one of Ben Folds’ concerts has been special and unique. And that is certainly true for last Friday’s show at Chicago’s Riviera Theatre. This time the something special and unique was yMusic, a classical sextet he’s been on tour with for the past year to promote his latest album, So There.

Dutch singer Dotan opened the show filling the theatre with his acoustic guitar and strong vocals. He encouraged the audience to sing along, “It’s only a few words. You can do it!” He gave an enthusiastic thumbs up as everyone sang the chorus to his song, “Home.” Dotan’s current album 7 Layers is now available on vinyl.

yMusic began the set with an original piece that led into Ben Folds’ grand entrance. The sextet with the addition of percussionist, Sam Smith, supported Folds’ on new songs and kept up with him as he created even newer songs on stage. His recent works were fun to hear and entertaining as the combo was clearly proud of what they have created.

The real excitement was hearing how rich Folds’ older music could become when accompanied by the right instruments. Hearing the trumpet with “Steven’s Last Night in Town” was a big crowd-pleaser. Elaborate clarinet solos and stunning strings filled each piece. Though half hidden by his piano, Folds made sure he was still seen by raising his arms high over his head to conduct the music and audience sing-alongs.

Folds’ gave space for another yMusic song mid set and then came back to play a haunting and surprising orchestral version of “Song for the Dumped.” The line “Give me my money back you bitch” never sounded so beautiful. For the encore Ben Folds came out for a solo version of “Landed,” before closing the show with crowd favorite “Army.” This night added another successful show to my list and made my heart a little more full.

Ben Folds’ latest record, So There features yMusic and is currently available on white vinyl or as a 2-LP set.

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