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Ben Folds and yMusic

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Ben Folds makes (at long last) a triumphant return to Auld Reekie.

Image of Ben Folds and yMusic

@ Usher Hall, Edinburgh, on Tue 14 Jun 2016

If there’s one quality that Ben Folds’ career hasn’t lacked, it’s variety. He’s an accomplished songwriter whose material ranges from warm and witty, to heartbreakingly introspective. Additionally, he has also managed to find time to produce albums by artists as diverse as Amanda Palmer and William Shatner. Highly illogical? Perhaps, but both albums were (rightly) critically acclaimed.

His latest collaboration is with New York classical ensemble, yMusic, who take to the stage without Folds to play their own Beautiful Mechanical. Folds joins them to play a trio of songs from their joint album, the title track So There, Capable of Anything and Not a Fan.

Traditionally, a Folds gig is associated with high degrees of energy and fun. Initially, this seems a much more subdued and sedate affair. However, just as an evening of polite applause is being anticipated, things launch into a much higher gear with Effington. As vocal harmonies and drums kick in, it’s clear that this has been a musical rope-a-dope. Metaphorical ties are removed and baffies go on. Proceedings seem much more relaxed. The musicians on stage may be (predominantly) classical, but the delivery here is rock. A classy fusion of styles.

Phone in a Pool follows and consolidates the more relaxed atmosphere. Folds confesses that this is, ‘My second time in Edinburgh and I really appreciate anyone showed up at all’. Mess features an impressively soaring trumpet before Folds leaves the stage to yMusic once more.

Folds returns to play Not the Man which has an air of gentle melancholy, its lyrics relevant to those of an age where the thought ‘there could be fewer days ahead than gone’ hits a nerve.

Appropriately (given recent events), Folds plays Boxing, a gentle waltz that is a tribute to Muhammad Ali.

Folds announces an old song with an abstract introduction. It starts with the cello, takes some interesting meanders and then finally rips off its mask to reveal the crowd-pleasing <dramatic pause> Song for the Dumped. As the crowd offers sustained applause, it segues into Steven’s Last Night in Town, which features impressive solos, not least on drums.

The band exit and Folds returns alone for an encore to take requests. Chaos ensues as much shouting follows. Folds notes that ‘the most aggressively requested one is the most mellow’. After three songs, yMusic rejoin him for You Don’t Know Me.

The evening ends with Folds at front of stage, conducting the audience to deliver three-part harmonies for Not the Same. The audience singing is delivered enthusiastically. Scottish reserve? Well, as yMusic are here, y not? Folds and yMusic exit to a deserved standing ovation.