Ben Folds

Just to finish off the week of “things we’ve been doing lately”, two weeks ago today Sara and I actually got a babysitter (*gasp*) to go see the man, the myth, the legend: Mr. Ben Folds.

I have been a fan of Ben Folds for such a ridiculously long period of time (though not quite as long as Sara, who claims I “stole” Ben Folds from her, despite the fact that I had a couple of pirated mp3s before I met her!) that it’s almost hard to remember a music landscape without him. Actually, I just remembered that “Whatever and Ever Amen” was the first thing I ever bought off this crazy new website called eBay. Sara and I danced to “The Luckiest” at our wedding. My mom liked the song so much, that years later she danced to “The Luckiest” at her wedding.

Previous to this concert, I’ve seen Ben Folds four times, and each one was unique and totally awesome. I sat in the front row of the balcony at the University of Illinois in a venue so small that I probably could have sweat on him. I saw him at a true college show at Purdue as part of my bachelor party, where he was hilarious in between songs. He was very chatty, telling all kinds of stories about growing up when we saw him in his home state of North Carolina. And finally, we had the truly unique concert experience when we saw him with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Still, through all of that, I had never actually seen Ben Folds Five together in concert (Sara saw them once in the ’90’s). So when our friend Dabu informed us they were coming to Chicago for the “World’s Largest Block Party”, we knew we had to go. It was every bit as awesome as I could have hoped it would be. They played all the best old stuff, and I heard every song that I hoped I would hear.

(They don’t look this young anymore)

I believe we have 16 Ben Folds or Ben Folds Five CDs (technically four of them are just EPs, and one is a DVD), and every one of them is awesome, start to finish. I love the old, ironic nerd rock, Ben Folds Five stuff. I love the slightly more serious solo Ben Folds stuff. Even the very newest stuff is good, the last new album “Lonely Avenue” is one of my favorites. And the new retrospective “The Best Imitation of Myself” is probably the best compilation I have ever heard from any artist. I even loved Mr. Folds on the now-defunct acapella show The Sing Off.

You know the old saying, you have to know the rules to break them? I think Ben Folds’ deep understanding (intuition?) of music is what allows him to get away with the things he does. Like writing a beautiful song about something ugly, or an upbeat song about something sad, or to have a harmony-driven-piano-centric-with-no-guitars pop band, or to call three musicians “Ben Folds’ Five”.

I don’t know what it is exactly about the music, but the best I can say is that it’s just beautiful. It’s beautiful when it’s about the human condition, but it’s also beautiful when it’s talking about Americans over-consuming. It’s beautiful when it’s talking about love, but it’s also beautiful when it’s talking about breakups, or relationships gone wrong, or abortion, or a bad acid trip, or people who wear fanny packs. It’s just always, unceasingly, heartrendingly beautiful.

Ben Folds Five is preparing to release a new album, and you can pre-order it here. In fact, if you do, you instantly become a “Vice President of Promotion”, which you should go ahead an do, so we can be co-Vice Presidents together. It will be very nice working with you.

Quote Monday Converts

Evie, drawing a picture: “You might think this is Shin, but it’s really a stool.” – I think she meant Hei, one of the other dreydl letters, because it looks like a stool (ה).

Evie: “I was thinking about being a rabbi when I grow up.”

Evie: “I un-cutted it, can you fix it with the stampler?” – This one cracked me up, because she so very precise with her language, but for some reason “stapler” consistently gives her trouble.

Evie: “Mama, is the onion still in my eye, or was that a tear?”

Sara and Evie were having an argument about if the titular character in the song Eddie Walker was a boy or a girl. Finally Evie ended the argument:
Evie: “Mama! Even the fools of Chelm could tell you it’s a girl!”

Lonely Avenue

Ben Folds just released a new album, Lonely Avenue.

The thing that makes this album interesting, is that all of the lyrics were written by British novelist Nick Hornby. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to write music for someone else’s words. I mean, obviously people do it all the time, and I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to write music at all, even to your own words. But Ben Folds has always written his own lyrics, so it must have been a challenge.

So the lyrics are very story oriented, but Ben’s own style is very much storytelling anyway. So it probably wasn’t too much of a switch for him. That being said, having a literary writer definitely gives the songs a little something different. All in all, I thoroughly enjoy the album (thanks Anna for lending it to me!), and I like it better than the previous one (Way to Normal).

So, here are my 5 favorite songs on the CD, in reverse order:

5) Levi Johnston’s Blues – I’m willing to bet this is the #1 song in America about Levi Johnston (of Bristol Palin’s baby-daddy fame). Basically it’s just about how he was a regular 18 year old dude one minute, and the next minute was the focus of an entire presidential campaign (at least for a little while).

The lyric: I’m a f—–‘ redneck, I live to hang out with the boys / Play some hockey, do some fishin’ and kill some moose / I like to shoot the shit and do some chillin’ I guess / You f— with me and I’ll kick your ass*

*This entire chorus was taken wholesale from Levi’s MySpace page before it was sanitized by the political machine.

4) Claire’s Ninth – All Claire wants for her 9th birthday is for her divorced parents to get together and take her out for dinner. This song is flat out amazing. It somehow manages to capture both the sarcasm and embarrassment of being a pre-teen, and also the feelings of the parents: sort of a strange mix of regret over what happened and how it affects their daughter, but at the same time sort of oblivious to how they’re hurting her.

The lyric: Or what we were, you’re all that’s left / It used to be our birthday too

3) Belinda – This is a song about a singer who wrote a love song which became his biggest hit, the song he will be forever known for. The problem is, 40 years later, he’s not with the girl anymore and he’s forced to sing the song over and over, night after night. I wonder if this one rung especially true for Ben Folds, who’s written a love song or two over the course of his 4 marriages.

The lyric: There’s a lot of 40-somethings wouldn’t be in the world without it

2) Saskia Hamilton – The entire song is based on falling in love with the name of poet Saskia Hamilton. Seriously. The entire song is just about her name. Aside from being very catchy, the video is pretty awesome too. From what I understand, Ben Folds just contacted some dude who made cool youtube videos and asked him to make a video for the song. It turned out fantastic. The entire thing is filmed in the guy’s bedroom. This had me screaming, “Saskia Hamilton!” at odd times for at least a week.

The lyric: She’s got more assonance than she knows what to do with

1) From Above – The premise is that soul mates do exist, and we walk by ours every day without ever noticing. The song follows two such people through their lives. I liked this song immediately, but it wasn’t my favorite at first. However, after hearing a few times, the lyrics are so poignant, and the music fits them perfectly. How sad to think that each person has a perfect second half, and the vast majority of everyone will never even meet them.

The lyric: Maybe that’s how books get written / Maybe that’s why songs get sung / Maybe we owe the unlucky ones

The Sing Off

I have a confession to make. I don’t watch Glee. It’s not because I don’t like acappella. In fact, I *love* acappella. I’ve even blogged about it before. It’s because I don’t have time to watch T.V.

Or so I thought.

Because now I’m watching The Sing Off (Mondays and Wednesdays on NBC). Who’d have thought that if I were going to watch a limited number of t.v. shows (a VERY limited number…like 4), that I’d include a reality show with the same, tired out, ripped-off-from-American-Idol format. And I haven’t watched a reality show since the 2nd season of The Apprentice.

There’s probably nothing that could make me watch that. Nothing at all except for the fact that they installed Ben Folds as one of the 3 judges. So I was going to watch no matter what.

Despite my misgivings, I am really enjoying the show. There are 3 factors that I hadn’t counted on:
1) The American Idol format works. People keep ripping it off because its effective.
2) I’m a Ben Folds fanboy even more than I thought.
3) Nobody can resist good acappella. It crawls in your ear and tugs at the corners of your mouth until you either smile or your head explodes. The human voice is amazing; it is an instrument like no other.

The thing that really strikes me (compared to other shows in a similar format) is the judging. Most (all) of the reality shows in this format have the most worthless comments from the judges, usually stating that each performance is the most amazing performance ever performed by anyone anywhere. The credentials of the judges is usually dubious at best.

In this case, the judges are the aforementioned Ben Folds, Shawn Stockman (Boyz II Men), and Nicole Scherzinger (winner of Dancing with the Stars and lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls). So obviously Shawn Stockman knows a thing or two about acapella harmonizing, and Nicole Scherzinger knows about singing and also about winning reality shows in this format.

So it would seem that Ben Folds would be the odd man out. What experience does he have? Well, aside from displaying an amazing knowledge of musicians and musical history, he does tend to have a lot of 4 part harmonies in his songs. He also has his own acappella CD, Ben Folds Presents: University a Cappella!, although he didn’t do the singing himself. But he obviously has an appreciation for the art.

So the amazing thing is the insightful, in-depth comments the judges give to each performance. They point out things I never would have noticed. Sometimes they still start with the “ohmygoshthisissoamazing” stuff, but then they roll into a pointed, sometimes rough criticism of the piece. They certainly don’t just give everybody a pass.

So, long story short, I’m enjoying The Sing Off a lot more than I expected to. I think there are about 5 groups left, and they are all pretty awesome, so it’s not too late to start watching. If nothing else, you can watch my man Folds lay some awesome critique without being too mean. Then we can debate over stuff, like who got robbed and who’s totally going to win.

Ben Folds, pirate lover

As you may know, I have been accused of being obsessed with pirates.  Well, the new Ben Folds video proves that I’m not the only one! 

My favorite part is when he plays the piano with his hook. 🙂

On a completely unrelated note, you’ve enjoyed fantasy football, now how about fantasy congress?