Ben Folds melds beloved songs, humor on final weekly livestream before hiatus

Ben Folds TV/Courtesy

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While the pandemic has driven countless artists to get creative with how they share their music, master pianist Ben Folds has taken stay-at-home production to a new level. Folds has gifted fans with a YouTube livestream titled “Saturday Apartment Requests,” in which he takes to his keyboard and computer to belt out fan requests and perform new music from the comfort of his office-turned-studio in Sydney, Australia.

On June 20, the 13th installment since the livestream’s conception, Folds brought his easygoing charm and obscure tunes, along with more well-known covers, to the approximately hourlong show. 

The first seven minutes were dedicated to Folds setting up and vacuuming his chair and piano. Then, donning a rust-colored beanie and dark outfit, Folds leisurely played a recording of the previously unreleased waltz “2020,” a critique of the chaotic nature of the year so far. He poured himself a morning beer and made a toast to the viewers.

Folds’ jovial nature was ever-present as he greeted his fans with, “Welcome scrollers! ‘Sup?” Folds also explained, in a sad but hopeful tone, that he would be taking a break from his weekly livestreams because he was working on a new album and quarantine restrictions were changing.

But before things became too heavy, Folds began playing the first request, a cover of Jethro Tull’s “Thick as a Brick, Part 1” on his keyboard. Taking breaks for mistakes and never losing a bit of his energy, Folds made sure fans felt like they were right there in the studio with him. Immediately, Folds’ passion for the music he played and his connection with fans resonated through the screen and into the hearts of those watching.

The songs Folds played on the livestream were mostly brief snippets, but impactful and immersive nonetheless. He performed a mix of his own songs, songs from his time in Ben Folds Five and covers dear to both him and fans. He made an effort to banter with viewers, sharing his personal thoughts on each song. And because there was no time restraint like with traditional concerts, Folds found a perfect mix between avoiding a constant barrage of songs and making the show as personal as one can without a live, fully tangible audience.

Folds played a series of his own songs back to back, before launching into “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” by Elton John, a widely requested cover. The tune was executed with the full force of Folds’ talent, even though the performance was less than two minutes long. He proved that he’s able to deliver concert-quality sound and energy without any need for a backing band.

Folds was constantly energetic, banging on his keyboard when he felt the need and taking a sip of his beer whenever he messed up. But the unique part of his livestream was not solely his eclectic playing style; in between his performances, Folds also incorporated videos from fans, whom he endearingly dubbed the “Mad Scrollers,” and, fittingly, piano lessons.

Folds was also eager to try songs he hadn’t played in a while, such as “Fired,” a complex piano number that he tackled with ease and ended with an unintentionally melodic smashing of his palms on the keys.

Folds ended with “The Luckiest,” a fitting song to close out his three-month streaming stint. Folds sang the lyrics with such sincerity, a serenade to fans who have stuck with him for so long. Then, he sent his fans out with the webcast theme song as he changed into his “civilian clothes” while mouthing the lyrics.

Folds’ livestream brought a personal warmth to the detached world of virtual concerts. He managed to capture not only the looseness of a concert, but also the improvisation and nuance that each different live show creates. It’s something out of a dream concert, where the musician plays whatever songs fans desire, particularly lesser-known ones that often aren’t played live. “Gosh darn it, I do my best,” he said near the end, and truer words could not be spoken.

Pooja Bale covers music. Contact her at [email protected].