Ben Folds
Sydney Opera House, Sydney 01/02/18
Review: David James Young (Facebook / Twitter / Website / Patreon
Photos: Britt Andrews (Facebook / Twitter / Patreon)

Every time an artist plays the concert hall of the Sydney Opera House, they'll more often than not make a point of discussing its iconic status and the importance of being able to play there. Here's the thing about Ben Folds, though: He practically lives here. He's been playing shows here for well over a decade, both solo and with various orchestral arrangements in tow. Folds is well past the flirtation and flattery stage when it comes to the House – they're in an ongoing and committed relationship by now. It's why he can swear so freely in front of it, do heinous rock’n’roll things to the piano and casually trash the place with a thousand-odd paper planes just for the absolute hell of it. He could strut on stage naked and not a single handbag would be clutched – that's how comfortable the House, and by extension Australia itself, has gotten with the bespectacled piano man.

For context: We're here for the first of two nights in which Folds plays two sets solo – one dictated by the man himself, and one by us via requests written on paper planes that we're to hurtle at the stage on command. We're relied upon early to help fill out some of the song's missing parts that Folds, talented as he is, can't replicate entirely on his own. The syncopated clap in “Annie Waits” smacks off the walls with perfect timing, the Ben Folds Five fans in the room eagerly complement the chorus of “Uncle Walter” and the audience breezes through the four-part vocal bridge in “Bastard”. Every time Folds leans away from the mic towards the stalls, it's our time to shine – and it's full credit to the music nerds in attendance that they can easily transform into a makeshift army of Regina Spektors when “You Don't Know Me” rolls around. The centrepiece of the show comes with set one closer “Steven's Last Night in Town”, where Folds surprises us with a drum solo – literally as stagehands are assembling a kit onstage on the fly. Wizardry.

With that, planes are prepared and launch-time is – predictably – chaos. Some breeze onto the stage with the greatest of ease, others come crashing down not far from where they were thrown in spectacular fashion. In one of the night's most hilarious moments, the planes keep coming well into the first request – which, as it turns out, is Folds' solo ballad “The Luckiest.” There's nothing quite like the contrast of Folds singing one of his quietest and most introspective love songs while paper planes are still being shot around the room. Cheers go up for some impressive shots from afar, right as Folds is reliving a bygone love – you can't help but laugh.

As one would anticipate with a show concept such as this, it really boils down to the luck of the draw – and, for those that have been following Folds since the 90s, this request set was a total jackpot. We score “Underground”, “Best Imitation of Myself” and “Philosophy” from the first Ben Folds Five record – and you'd best believe the die-hards know Robert Sledge and Darren Jesse's parts when Folds leans away from the mic. These throwbacks also serve to note the generational gap between Folds' audience – at one point, Folds mentions “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces” getting played on Triple J. This elicits cheers from certain rows, while an older woman incredulously laughs at the song title – clearly indicating she'd never heard it before. She's probably more into the sweeter moments of this request set, like Lonely Avenue's “Picture Window” or Songs for Silverman's “Gracie”. Lovely as they are, there's nothing quite like desecrating the concert hall even further with a rousing cry of, “Give me my money back, you bitch” during “Song for the Dumped”. He may be in a sharper suit these days, but Folds will always be the man behind “punk rock for sissies,” as the Five were self-described in their heyday.

A double BF5 throwback sends us home with a grand encore – “Army”, which turns the audience into a trumpet-less horn section, as well as the aforementioned “One Angry Dwarf”, The only thing missing is Folds throwing his stool at the piano at the set's conclusion. It's not to be on this night, but that's a single con on a list that is brimming with pros at this point. A by-request tour is risky business most of the time, but it ultimately paid off dividends for Folds and his audience tonight. Our throats hurt from singing, our jaws hurt from laughing and our heart hurts because we couldn't get another hour with the man playing more of his classics. We'll be back. So will Folds – after all, this is his House.

Check out our full gallery of shots from Ben Folds after the jump!