Ben Folds and a Piano

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Lorraine Wilson, five stars

BEN Folds has been here before, but has never allowed himself to be so exposed, with only a piano and simple lighting for company. His recordings are often lush and multi-layered, but stripping each song back reveals more about his craft. It also focuses on a voice that has strengthened over the years, but manages to retain something that’s quite plaintively teenage.

His piano playing owes much to the Eton John and Billy Joel schools, but adds a layer, managing to make the keys whisper, thunder, and sound like a mini-orchestra. The intricacy of what’s going on under his hands – often a blur – is in direct contrast to the simplicity of the vocal melodies.

There is unashamed sentimentality at times, or maybe melancholia is a better description. However, it’s a melancholia that hits you in the fuzzies in the same way that Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack for classic Charlie Brown cartoons does.

The counterpoint to this are lyrics. Personal tales with a twist – of childhood, failing relationship, and misspent youth, but also taking a hard line on the US and its consumerism in something like All You Can Eat.

Folds often leaves fellow musicians in awe of his skill on any instrument. The show became Ben Folds and a Piano and a Drum Kit when, during Steven’s Last Night In Town, the crew hastily constructed a drum kit around him as he played, and on which he demonstrated a similar jaw-dropping virtuosity.

He is confident of his audience’s musical ear and on a few occasions teaches them harmony parts to create a swell of sound around his songs, making this intimate performance even more personal.

It’s hard to fault a show that delivers exactly what was promised on the poster – and then a lot more.