Ben Folds / WASO

Live in Perth

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Although usually played only on piano with a rhythm section, Ben Folds' songs, with their well-rounded, often classically influenced melodies, have implied more elaborate arrangements. And since the core of Folds' appeal is the contrast between those lush tunes and his quirky, clever lyrics, it would seem that if his songs were given orchestral treatments, they would work even better. The Western Australia Symphony Orchestra (WASO) seems to have been the first organization to realize the possibilities, and it commissioned local arrangers to write charts for the 90-piece orchestra and brought Folds in to sing and play piano for two concerts on March 12 and 13, 2005. Sometimes, the result is really too much of a good thing, as the orchestra overwhelms the deceptively modest singer and pianist; some of the arrangements don't take into consideration that Folds' songs are wordy and can be subtle. As a composer, he has every right to be as satisfied as he sounds on-stage, repeatedly thanking WASO for giving his music such a hearing. As a performer, he isn't always able to get the full meaning of his songs across, at least on their own, and he seems to realize this, since he talks frequently between songs, offering explanations that fans will find illuminating about his inspirations for the oddball characters and situations in his lyrics. He also manages to be surprisingly theatrical for a bespectacled guy with greasy hair in a wrinkled lumberjack shirt and jeans, pushing up his glasses and bending over his piano. Left by himself to sing "Not the Same," he rehearses the youthful audience (which is sprawled on an outdoor lawn separated from the stage by a duck pond), in three-part harmony, making them part of the show. The appearance can be taken as a good first effort by Folds to play with an orchestra. If the arrangements can be toned down here and there, his songs should shine in this context.

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