Review: Festival of Voice – Ben Folds @ Wales Millennium Centre

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Article by Neptune.

Ben Folds | Festival of Voice | Wales Millennium Centre | 12th June 2016

The last night of the Voices took place at Wales Milleinnium Centre on Sunday 12th June with a special appearance from Ben Folds and guests, marking the first time he’s played in Wales and, judging by his enthusiasm and the crowd reaction, hopefully not his last!  A true 90’s Americana legend, his music has always been atop the alternative charts on both sides of the pond, and several of his peers often cite his work with Ben Folds Five as some of their favourite albums of all time with their catchy blend of playful piano, fuzzy bass and whimsical lyricism.  To catch him live is to catch someone who has matured with their music and adopted a new sense of musical interpretation, as evidenced tonight with his accompanying musicians.

Joining him for the show is opening act Lera Lynn, a young artist straight from America’s Deep South and a track record to show, having recently worked with legendary producer T-Bone Burnett and daughter of the Man in Black Rosanne Cash to pen a song for the TV series True Detective.  Her breathy vocals sing of pained living and cigarette ends, coupled with echo drenched guitar grooves pulled from the heaviest Blues to create an atmospheric slice of dark Americana (think Jeff Buckley singing Johnny Cash).  It’s instantly likeable in it’s sound and swagger and the audience like it very much as the deeper moments of the songs are met with such deadly silence in the auditorium; the highest form of praise for a singer/songwriter. A dryly observant cover of “Ring of Fire” concludes the set followed by a worthy round of applause.

Ben Folds set opens with his touring chamber sextet yMusic initially taking the stage and powering through an avant-garde blurry of strings and woodwind, with the man himself jumping on the piano into a selection of new and old songs.  His enthusiasm for the sextet accompaniment is evident as they add exciting new arrangements for some of his most popular work from his early days to his solo work.  His singing voice is so warming for those who have listened to his records from the beginning, a wonderfully familiar addition to this Festival of Voice, but it seems to be the extra accompanying musicians that are the true voices here.  This is his music, but not like it’s been heard before as he extends shorter songs with eerie intros and bouncing bridges, enriching his music with a mixture of genres from the sextet as jazz and concrète and classical blend seemingly seamlessly with his piano-pop.  There’s fun and mutual admiration on stage as they acknowledge one anothers solos and occasional mistakes with smiles, and everyone is in a jovial mood despite being admittedly jetlagged!

Always one to interact with his audience, he introudces songs with a story or a joke and fully appreciates shouts from the crowd, including the half-expected request for “Rock This B****”, a song he has been famous for making up every night it is requested.  And this time it is especially unique as he asks the crowd for the Welsh translation of the title which he uses for the performance!  He knows of the name of the festival and enjoys getting the crowd to sing along and shout the lines of songs he forgets; an enjoyably disjointed sense of realism in a world of otherwise bland lyricism.

His encore involves the crowd shouting songs for him, which he plays with a smile and a nod to the past, and the sextet join him for the final song of the evening “Not the Same”, taken from his 2001 solo debut “Rockin’ the Suburbs”.  He conducts the audience with a chordal chant that he says is the best split of harmonies on his tour so far.  As the song ends, he jumps to the front of the stage and continues making them sing to his own beats and making them laugh with fast movements which they have to keep up with!  A chance to see Ben Folds live is not a chance to be missed, and to close the successful Festival of Voice in such a way was the best choice for the WMC. One of the highlights of this year’s Festival.

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Cover Photo Credit – Wales Millenium Centre Website

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