Live Review: Ben Folds brings his catalogue to life with help from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra

Ben Folds

Touring in a country you’ve had a unique connection to will always be different to other shows and tours. Coming back to the country you lived in and married into, will always give you reason to perform at a level that goes beyond what could be expected from a touring act. For Ben Folds, playing in Australia will always hold a special place for him. Luckily enough for the Sydney Town Hall crowd, Folds lived up to his connection with the country and performed a career spanning set with the help of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

Due to the nature of playing with an orchestra show, you’d expect much of the set to be structured and not allow for much improvisation. For the most part, this was correct during the course of the performance. However, in those moments where experimentation and improvisation were allowed, Folds and the SSO took the show to truly unexpected levels.

Breaking the set into two main parts, separated by a twenty minute intermission, allowed Folds to essentially play entirely different sets. For the first half of the night, the track list was kept in control, with many of the hits you’d hoped to have heard sadly didn’t make an appearance.

Opening with “Effington” off his Way To Normal album, it set the tone for what to expect for the first half. As a firm non-musician, watching an orchestra absolutely crush their job is always something I’ll be in awe of. I’ve seen a couple alternative artists take on an orchestra previously, but this set took the cake for what I’ve come to like about the alternate/orchestra crossover.

Folds was personal in his story telling between songs, as he explained much of the back story of many of his songs (“Gracie” for his daughter and “Still Fighting It” for his son were both touching and genuinely funny moments). As the night progressed, you began to appreciate the many lives Folds has lived as a musician. Solo artist, in a band, or with an orchestra, Folds has a story for it all. From “Free Coffee” (literally about receiving free coffee for being mildly successful after flying across country having left his car running in his front yard), to “Capable of Anything”, Folds was open to explaining every interesting facet of his backstory.

One thing you took away from the whole set was the gratitude and appreciation Ben Folds has for classical music and those that perform it. Giving an impassioned plea for everyone to indulge classical music one more time in a live setting, his thanks to the SSO was apparent throughout the entirety of the night.

Returning for the second half of the set, this is where all the bangers came to bless our ears. From the immediacy of “Zak and Sara” to the ballad-esque “Kyle From Connecticut”, Folds was just hitting his straps as the night took an unexpected, but entirely brilliant turn.

The story goes that some guy twenty-plus years ago yelled out for Folds to play “Rock This Bitch”. The only thing was that song didn’t exist. As a result, Folds will now regularly perform an impromptu version of “Rock This Bitch” based on the city he’s in and what’s in the news at the time. Performing in a structured situation with an orchestra could prove making off the cuff songs a little hard. Not so with Folds. Taking the time to work out the melody, key and lyrics, he instructed each section of the orchestra individually before getting everyone to play together. If not a comment on his musical knowledge, it highlighted how incredibly talented the orchestra musicians are. It was genuinely one of the most magical things I’ve seen at a gig in a long time.

Having the crowd sing Regina Spektor’s part on “You Don’t Know Me” proved to be another highlight. The crowd more than held their own. Touching once more on his Australian connection, Folds told the crowd it was ok to film the next song, as he performed the Peter Allen classic “I Still Call Australia Home”. Recorded earlier this year as an opportunity for people to donate to the bushfire appeal, Folds spoke about needing to keep these things in the front of mind, because while people may forget about the devastation fires have caused, it will take years to truly overcome the effects of the fires.

Closing the night with personal favourite “Landed” and the inexplicably outrageous “Steven’s Last Night in Town”, Folds and the SSO received a standing ovation for the show they just delivered. Returning briefly for an encore of “The Luckiest”, the crowd was more than thankful for what they had just witnessed.

Truly one of the better shows you’re likely to see out of the Sydney Town Hall, Ben Folds and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra put their best foot forward and more than definitely delivered. If you get the chance to see Ben Folds on this tour, don’t sit on your hands. You’ll kick yourself if you miss the chance.


Ben Folds continues his The Orchestral Tour on the following dates:

Wednesday, 11th March, QPAC Concert Hall, Brisbane (with Queensland Symphony Orchestra)
Thursday, 12th March, QPAC Concert Hall, Brisbane (with Queensland Symphony Orchestra)
Monday, 16th March, Perth Concert Hall (with West Australian Symphony Orchestra)
Tuesday, 17th March, Perth Concert Hall (with West Australian Symphony Orchestra)
Thursday, 19th March, Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide (with Adelaide Symphony Orchestra)
Sunday, 22nd March, Pienary, Melbourne Convention And Exhibition Centre (with Melbourne Symphony Orchestra)

For tickets to the remaining shows head HERE

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