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Photo: Courtesy of Ben Folds
Photo: Courtesy of Ben Folds

Ben Folds Breaks Boundaries Because He Can

When Ben Folds rolls through Merriweather Post Pavilion on August 18 on his co-headlining tour with Cake, he’ll be nearing his 52nd birthday with 30-plus years of music business experience under his belt. Lots of musicians play their music for decades, and while it’s impressive to have the wherewithal to endure any extended stretch in a creative field, Folds is unusual in how he uses his reputation. He takes risks, he gets scared and he keeps pushing forward.

“It’s a big, organic mess,” he says. “Sometimes, I get really interested in something and pursue it. You never know the best thing to do, but the common thread in the whole thing is I follow what I’m interested in. That can be very different day-to-day, and I have to live with it. Sometimes I’ll be interested in something and agree to a future show, and then in six months, I’ll be like, ‘What the hell?’”

This “What the hell?” feeling isn’t new for Folds. In fact, it’s what motivates him at this point in his career. This is the reason he agreed to satirize himself on the FX show You’re the Worst, and the reason he’s done bizarre covers like “Bitches Ain’t Shit” over the course of his career. His range in musical interests is boundless as he bounces from rock band to piano soloist to orchestra composer. But before he jumps headfirst – or onstage – for new projects, he’s a little scared.

“Now I have to arrange all these weird things [for the show] and it’s exciting. It’s a slightly scary tour, and it doesn’t have to be big things – it can be small things.”

Folds is not a risk-averse artist based on his collaborations – William Shatner and Weird Al Yankovic among them – to the genres he finds himself dabbling in. Part of his confidence in floating from idea to idea comes from his longevity in the industry, which he says grants him more opportunities to be a little off the wall.

“I get more leeway every year,” he says. “After awhile, they’re like, ‘He wants to try that? F—k it, let him do it.’ Nothing is probably going to kill [my career], so I get to be less and less responsible really, and it serves me well. It’s what they call in U.K. politics a backbencher. It makes for a creative career that’s fun for me.”

This unpredictable path wouldn’t be as riveting to watch from the outside if not for his prolific nature in releasing projects and music.

“I don’t really have an answer. I don’t think I’m particularly superhuman. You’ll be doing one thing, and it’ll sit on the shelf for awhile, and then it’ll come out together with another project. Right now, I’m writing a book, so I’m spending my time on that and then I’ll go to next thing.”

Slated to be a biography full of advice for musicians, Folds says he’s gotten into a good groove with the switch from writing lyrics to penning prose.

“There’s an adjustment for sure, because when you have what seems like unlimited real estate, you have to find your pace and it takes a little bit of time. I think it’s true that you never learn how to write a book, just the one you’re on. Right now, I’m cranking out 3,000 words a day.”

As for more on what the words are about, Folds puts it simply with, “We’re all interested in a good journey, no matter what part you’re on.”

Learn more about Ben Folds at www.benfolds.com.

See Ben Folds and Cake at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Saturday, August 18. Tall Heights will open. Tickets start at $45. Doors at 5:30 p.m., show at 7 p.m.

Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD; 410-715-5550; www.merriweathermusic.com

Photo: Nathan Payne
Photo: Nathan Payne

Foo Fighters Rock ‘n’ Roll All Night at Merriweather

“Ladies and gentlemen, do you love rock ‘n’ roll? Chris, let’s give them some rock ‘n’ roll!” shouts Dave Grohl just before the crowd goes wild.

Rock ‘n’ roll – loud, head-banging, fist-pumping-the-air rock ‘n’ roll – is exactly what Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters gave the jam-packed audience at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Friday, July 6. That, and Grohl’s promise that when he comes to his hometown area (Springfield, Virginia to be more specific), he must give the best rock show ever. With three hours of the band’s best hits, Grohl’s anecdotes of growing up in the area and the lead singer shot-gunning a beer with an audience member, I’d say the band absolutely delivered.

Foo Fighters’ Merriweather performance was the first stop on their 2018 U.S. tour for their latest record Concrete and Gold, released last September. The show also marked their first gig in the DMV since playing The Anthem’s grand opening last October. The band’s venue-opening performance was an incredible opportunity to see the band in a more intimate setting, but their stadium-sized sound and rambunctious energy seemed better suited that night for a classic summer venue like Merriweather.

Crowd favorites like “All My Life” and “The Pretender” set the tone for the show with the audience of mostly millennials who grew up listening to the Foos, shouting the lyrics back at Grohl and punching their hands into the air. Six songs and an hour later, Grohl offered an exuberant hello and joked about taking so long to welcome attendees to the show.

“It’s going to be a long night and I need to get worked up,” he added, saying, “Tonight I feel like we should play a song from every record.”

True to his word, songs from all nine of the band’s albums were on the setlist, including tracks like “Learn to Fly” and “Times Like These” from their third and fourth albums (respectively) that were recorded in Grohl’s basement when he lived in NoVA.

Halfway through the show, Grohl introduced the rest of the band with each member playing a solo and/or cover song. Guitarist Chris Shiflett followed his solo with a cover of Alice Cooper’s “Under My Wheels” that had him singing vocals as the band joined in. Up next was bassist Nate Mendel, who played a verse of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” followed by guitarist Pat Smear joined by the band for The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” and finally, keyboardist Rami Jaffee playing a quick tune.

Wrapping the introductions up with an epic cover of Queen and David Bowie’s “ Under Pressure,” Drummer Taylor Hawkins was the last to be introduced. He was joined on vocals by opening act The Struts lead singer Luke Spiller as Grohl took over on drums.

Other highlights from the night included a giant accordion-like platform that raised Hawkins into the air as he shredded through a solo. Or how the crowd went wild when Grohl mentioned listening to WAVA and DC101 when he was a kid in Virginia. A true stand-out moment, however, was when Grohl shot-gunned a beer with a fan onstage for her birthday, after her sign with that exact request caught the singer’s eye.

Whether Grohl is shot-gunning a beer with a fan, wiggling his butt at the audience and talking with a valley girl accent or the guys are messing around between songs, you can’t help notice the genuine friendships among the band. They could easily just be your local neighborhood dads who get together on Tuesdays to play covers of their favorite rock songs. It’s that authenticity and lively energy the Foo Fighters give off that makes them so fun to watch.

The band closed the show with the ever popular “Everlong” and I couldn’t help pondering the lyrics afterwards. “And I wonder/When I sing along with you/If everything could ever feel this real forever/If anything could ever be this good again.” Every time I see the Foos, I’m reminded it can.

For more information about the Foo Fighters, click here.