LEWISTON – Piano-pop artist Ben Folds, touring this time around with a drummer and Manhattan-based sextet, played Artpark amphitheater Wednesday night. It was a Ben double-header at the venue this week with another singing-songwriting Ben (Harper) playing the previous night.
Throughout the set, Folds introduced and showcased, as a democratic bandleader, the talents of drummer Sam Smith, of Nashville, and the sextet – yMusic. The classical ensemble opened the set, one of their own compositions, “Beautiful Mechanical,” before Folds and Smith bound to their places behind upright piano and drum kit.
The eight on stage played as a cohesive musical machine of ninety-minutes (plus encore tunes) of Folds’ compositions. It was, sonically, a collage of genres with references sometimes shifting mid-song. There were bursts of western-worthy horn blasts, classically-infused strings, and plenty of cohesive rock drums.
“Hit it!” Folds said in jazzy fashion to the band, as they began with jaunty “So There,” the eponymous song off the 2015 Folds-yMusic release. Flutist Alex Sopp soared throughout the song; it’s not every day that the flute gets to be the grungy-sexy noisemaker of a band.
Folds addressed the audience: “Thank you, fine citizens of Artpark and surrounding parishes.” There was then, suddenly, a detouring into extended ad-libbing about the searing quality of the sun that, according to him, was taking quite a long time to set. Folds was simultaneously distracted by the rumbling of a jet boat passing down in the gorge. “The jet boat was gone and we started this stupid song ...”
Once conditions were under control it was on to “So There” and “Capable of Anything,” yMusic members were introduced after various songs throughout the show, like big gold stars from Folds.
After the song “Effington” Folds gave a shout-out to curly-headed violinist Rob Moose, the audience making his surname an amphitheater-worthy chant: “Moose,” with great emphasis on the ooh.
There were, as to be expected, some selections from his earlier days as leader of Ben Folds Five. And those songs, more familiar, were met with cheers and occasional bouts of air-drumming from audience members.
Midway through the set Folds and Smith left the stage as yMusic played another instrumental, an interlude before “I’m Not the Man” as a group of ladies waltzed with each other. Folds introduced “Boxing,” another fine BFF song, as his tribute to recently-departed Muhammed Ali.
Folds thanked his sixteen-year-old daughter Gracie for being his opening act. Her set featured her, just like her dad, on piano facing outward, and much biographical inter-song banter.
With pop rock poise and talent as a songwriter and on both piano and gwuitar, she is a talented apple that did not fall far from the tree.
At set’s end Folds joked that his songs at her age were much less dignified, and accompanied by a drum machine. Folds, ever band leader/producer, made the following request: “If a reviewer is here say that it was song #14, and that he played it in its entirety.” The song, with a teenaged boy-worthy title is best left unnamed, illustrating how Folds has evolved into finery.