Ben Folds Paper Aeroplanes Request Tour @ Chevron Gardens (for Perth Festival)
w/ Elli Schoen
Sunday, February 11, 2018
“I’m not a fan
But I understand
If there is something that moves you
That’s not my cup of tea
It’s part of what makes you beautiful to me”
– Not a Fan, Ben Folds & yMusic
There’s certainly one thing you notice about Perth when you spend two to three nights of your week seeing live music and that’s that there is nothing short of a sincere appreciation this city has for musicians and artists alike. That feeling was noticeably palpable during Ben Folds’ solo Paper Aeroplanes Request Tour, which opened the touring artist portion of Perth Festival’s Chevron Gardens in Perth on Sunday night.
There was no shortage of fans that flocked in to the pop-up outdoor stadium area on the Elizabeth Quay foreshore for this truly intimate and interactive sold out event. Local support act Elli Schoen was followed by two soulful sets on display over the evening – one chosen by Folds and the other decided via aerial delivery drop from audience members who had written requests on a paper plane and launched them towards the stage – both halves were filled with classic indie rockers and brooding piano melodies.
“There’s a couple of times you’ll notice that I’ll pick it up and put it back on the stage, and usually that’s coz it’s a song that I’ve already played, but I’ll also drop ’em if I don’t know what I’m reading. I didn’t grow up playing other people’s music so if it’s a Kanye West cover I may just have to smile and drop it back on the stage. Otherwise, Perth, it’s your set.”
Ben Folds is no stranger to Perth, and his relentless string of solo shows are widely known to be deeply moving whilst also providing his audience with an artistic reinterpretation of his works. Although arguably he may have peaked back before the turn of the century, his talent for songwriting is undeniable and the informal yet intimate nature of his latest tour is a true representation of how he perceives himself has an artist.
Starting his set with Phone in a Pool and Annie Waits, it wasn’t really until he began relaying anecdotes to the audience in between songs, and noticeably when telling us of his inspiration for the Ben Folds Five track Uncle Walter that he seemed truly comfortable and connected to the sea of faces before him, hanging on his every word.
“This is a song I wrote back in 1992, back in the time of Kurt Cobain,” he said. “My band mate used to leave me with his mother because I was too young to go out with them, and she’d get drunk, bail me up and tell me all the crazy shit she would do if she were president – as it turns out… it’s actually happening – and it’s the same policies too, which is actually bizarre!”
The solitary piano arrangements of both classic Ben Folds Five tracks along with his own solo compositions provided the eclectic mix of his trademark melancholy, sarcasm and punk rock humour, delivered from delicate key strokes all the way to all out acts of pounding the hell out of the ivories. He even orchestrated three-part harmonies from the crowd, endearing himself to his fans with the wit and banter he is synonymous with, which can move from hilarious to shocking depending on his setlist.
He relayed that the song Not A Fan was named after a heavily tattooed, unnamed man approached him backstage with the intention of stabbing him with a knife because the song Brick was written about teenage abortion.
“He comes up to me and says, ‘I’m not a fan but my girlfriend is and we were wondering what that song on the radio is about?’ So I said I don’t really want to talk about it, and I was looking at his tattoos, and these were jail-jesus type tattoos, and he says to himself all worked up, ‘I know what this song is about…’
“And my manager grabbed him and forcefully threw him outta the room. And I just remember looking at him and thinking wow, this guy and his girlfriend really aren’t on the same page.”
Ironically and as if prearranged and on queue, Folds’ anectode of dealing with unruly fans was interrupted by an industrial drill operating from just across the street, which cut into the start of his performance of Not a Fan to his disbelief. “Why is he even working on a Sunday night?!” Folds asked.
Then unexpectedly from the wings off stage and large floor tom drum was brought up to the piano where Folds seamlessly cut from key to the sticks, pounding out a beat whilst being led to the front of stage where a flock of roadies instantly set up a full kit, never breaking beat, rather rapidly intensifying it into a full blown three minute drum solo.
After intermission Folds played, true to his word, a crowd-sourced setlist.
“I’m gonna wave and walk off stage. You’ll have some time to write a request on a piece of paper, fold it into a aeroplane and wait for instruction. You wanna hang on until I come back and do the countdown – some people will prematurely launch, but its nothing to be ashamed of. Then I’ll walk around the stage, I’ll just play the 10 songs that I pick up, and that’ll be your Perth set,” he said.
Launching as a volley of paper air drops under the night sky and spotlights of the Chevron Gardens mini-stadium, the fans truly had their say. Pacing the stage at random, selecting each request and taping it to the top of his piano, was followed by a set derived of largely 90s Ben Folds Five classics: Selfless, Cold and Composed, Kate, One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces and Brick, as well as solo hits Rockin’ the Suburbs and Adelaide, which no Australian show of his can really be complete without.
The spontaneity and the structure (or un-structure) of the second set seemed to suit Folds’ style and humour more than the first. With such a deep back catalogue, whether it was the Ben Folds Five era, solo or collaborative works he truly writes music that connects and resonates with his audience. And there could not have been a better location.
Perth has never seemed to have lost it’s love or fascination with this 90s alt-rock troubadour, and I doubt they ever will.
Photos by Cam Campbell