Cody Cousino / Photo editor
“If there’s a God / He’s laughing at us / And our football team.”
“Was this song written about Columbus?” an audience member mused at the first lyrics Ben Folds sang at his concert Friday at Lifestyle Communities Pavilion’s outdoor venue.
As the night wore on, Folds continued giving Columbus shout outs, mentioning his favorite places to go whenever he’s in the city. Near the end of the show, he went so far as to ad-lib a song about Columbus, during which he sang about the Short North, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Haiku and Lemongrass Fusion Bistro.
Folds performed most of his crowd-pleasers, as well as some of the songs off his newest album, “Lonely Avenue.” And he did almost all of it with just a piano on stage.
An exception was during “Steven’s Last Night In Town,” when a couple stage hands scurried out and brought a drum set on stage, one piece at a time. Folds went to town on the drums under the lights that alternated color for the remainder of the song, then the stage hands took them away and he returned to his piano.
But for some songs, he didn’t even use his piano. Singing “Hiro’s Song,” he just hit the microphone with his hand and played some sort of shaker. It’s impressively entertaining how Folds can make hitting the microphone into something musical.
The weather for the show was almost perfect. Folds took the stage under a cloudless twilight sky, and even as night fell, the temperature hung in the 70s. The audience was pretty full, but on the lawn, where seating can sometimes be a free-for-all, it was comfortable, not crowded.
One of the only uncomfortable people seemed to be a father who had brought his pre-teen daughter to the show, and was nervous about the woman next to them getting dangerously close during her drunken ballad waltzes.
The show benefited Nationwide Children’s Hospital, so the area that normally serves as the pit was transformed into a VIP section presumably full of Nationwide Children’s employees.
“That is why I assume we have a class system going on here,” Folds said.
Folds consistently addressed his “friends” in the back on the lawn, who remained on their feet throughout the show and met his class remarks with cheers.
“I’m not used to seeing this class division between the front and the back,” Folds said. “The back is going to rebel.”
But besides a few cheers and some half-hearted singing along, the crowd was largely indifferent. It was surprising when the VIP section expressed a little interest jumping out of its seats and swarming toward the stage during “Zak and Sara.” Folds seemed so surprised, he gave one of the VIPs his beverage.
As for the rest of the audience, there seemed to be a pretty steady chatter going on throughout his songs. A friend who also attended the concert said she’s been to shows where Folds had the crowd rocking, so I think the audience was to blame for the mediocrity of Friday night’s show atmosphere.
Folds’ vocals were on and impressive, as usual. Even in the outdoor venue, where acoustics can sometimes be lacking compared to indoor concerts, Folds didn’t disappoint. He played with the pitch of his voice and stretched its limits.
But when he asked for help from audience members, such as during “You Don’t Know Me” when he asked them to sing Regina Spektor’s part, they failed. The drunk woman nearby stopped waltzing long enough to make herself heard, but the majority of others lacked enthusiasm.
Nevertheless, Folds sampled his discography fairly well, playing “Sentimental Guy,” “Annie Waits” and a slew of others. He even performed one of his most famous songs, “Brick,” which my seasoned Ben Folds concert friend said was rare for him to do live.
This could be because Folds said Friday night was one of the last shows he’d be doing solo before Ben Folds Five gets back together. Folds didn’t play any of his band’s new songs, but offered the audience a chance to win a free download.
He said the band wasn’t signed to a label yet and was trying the grassroots thing for a while first and would premiere their songs at Bonnaroo, an outdoor music festival in Tennessee in June. Folds said 2013 would be his year with the band, 2014 would be his year with orchestras and he wasn’t sure yet about 2015.
“I’d like to do a musical one day when I grow up,” Folds said.
Folds was magnificent Friday night, as a musician and as a performer. He also handled his indifferent audience very well, using his charisma, talent and charm to make a show that could’ve been mediocre quite enjoyable.