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Live Review: Ben Folds, Dork-Pop Wunderkind

November 21, 2006 1:20 PM ET

Dork-pop's reigning boy wonder trounced through a stellar batch of his Top Forties hits last night at New York's Beacon Theater, supplementing polished crowd-pleasers with expertly picked covers. Just to hear Mr. Folds' piano-plunking take on Dr. Dre's "Bitches Ain't Shit" and a bourbon-soaked reading of Hank Williams' "Your Cheatin' Heart," complete with hillbilly twang, was almost worth the price of admission alone. Folds drew some criticism with the recent release of Supersunnyspeedgraphic, which had some fans grumbling that the album was merely a jumble of tracks previously released on iTunes and the Over the Hedge soundtrack. But the Beacon crowd didn't seem to mind — the songs themselves have aged well over the years.

According to Folds, the Beacon show was his last fall tour stop. "After this, we're going into the studio and making a new record," he told the crowd, proceeding to "preview" tracks from the yet to-be-recorded new album. A could-be working title from the mix included "Coach Paul Simmons," a fiery call-and-response about a muscle-bound beefcake that Folds and his band ran into while working out at a hotel gym. Punctuated by bass guitarist Jose Hernandez's slick licks and forceful catcalls of "no!" the track sounded like a nursery rhyme for a day at the stud ranch. After a few minutes ferocious banging on his wheeze-prone synthesizer, the singer began taking audience requests, assuming a Yoga Journal-worthy tree pose. "You want me to show you my dick?" Folds asked a pervy fan before launching into a stream-of-consciousness ditty about male genitalia (and inadvertently displaying a promising future as a Cialis jingle writer.)

But it was Gen-Y classics from the Ben Folds Five canon that really roused the audience's attention. Songs like "Army" and "One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces" were treated as the twentysomething anthems they've become. From the crowd response, it was clear that half-baked Cialis advertisements can't take the place of angst-ridden piano pop.

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Song Stories

“Nightshift”

The Commodores | 1984

The year after soul legends Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson died, songwriter Dennis Lambert asked members of the Commodores to give him a tape of ideas. "And the one from Walter Orange has this wonderful bass line," said co-writer Franne Golde. "Plus the lyric, 'Marvin, he was a friend of mine' ... Within 10 minutes, we had decided it should be something like a modern R&B version of 'Rock 'n' Roll Heaven,' and I just said, 'Nightshift.'" This tribute to the recently deceased musicians was the band's only hit without Lionel Richie, who had left for a solo career.

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