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Concert Reviews:
Ben Folds visits Rock City with the DSO

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Sunday, December 4, 2016

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DETROIT -- Orchestra Hall is not usually the province of F-bombs, power chords and Kiss songs. Especially when the Detroit Symphony Orchestra is present.

But Ben Folds brought all of that, and more, to the party as he made his second appearance with the DSO in 14 months on Sunday night, Dec. 4.

The hour and a half (plus intermission) show advanced the piano-playing singer-songwriter's sophisticated pop with rich arrangements for DSO, conducted on Sunday by Jacomo Bairos. The 16-song set was smoother than its predecessor last October, with Folds -- effusive in his praise of the DSO throughout the night -- and the musicians integrating more easily with each other, from the George Martin/Beatlesque flavor of "Capable Of Anything" (for which the crowd sang Regina Spektor's parts) to the Paul Buckmaster/Elton John strains of "Landed."

Starting with a muscular rendition of "Effington," Folds and company rolled through a wide sampling of his catalog, an array of compact tunes that includes "Jesusland," "Smoke," "Steven's Last Night In Town," "Alice Childress," "Landed" and "The Luckiest." He introduced a few with stories, making broader points about the importance of journalism before "Fred Jones Part 2" -- a song inspired by an ousted newspaper editor in his North Carolina home town -- and encouraging his fans to see more DSO shows as he closed the main set with "Not The Same," informing the crowd that "there are two kinds of cities -- one has a symphony orchestra, the others are crap."

Folds also presented the third movement of his commissioned piano concerto, a brisk, contemporary piece that found him plucking and banging on the piano strings as well as the keys.

The night's true highlights, however, came when Folds demonstrated the composing and arranging process -- none better than when he improvised an orchestra version of Kiss' "Detroit Rock City," creating and teaching the different DSO sections their parts on the spot. And for "Not The Same" he taught and led the Orchestra Hall crowd through a three-part communal vocal embellishment that was deployed throughout the song.

Folds is, of course, continuing his mainstream pop career alongside his orchestral concerts and other endeavors. There's no question, however, that Sunday's show was a special and insightful way to experience his music, and we'd certainly be happy to see it again in another 14 months -- or sooner.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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