Ben Folds: Be my piano man

Ben Folds' appearance at the Riverside Theater was a part of his tour to promote "Lonely Avenue." Photo courtesy of Nonesuch Records.

Under most circumstances, I’d cringe watching someone throw a stool at their Baldwin grand piano. When Ben Folds did so repeatedly on Friday night, I clapped and smiled. Go figure.

In town to promote his new album “Lonely Avenue,” Folds had the Riverside packed and bumping. Having never seen him live before, I was surprised by the wide age range Folds drew. I saw girls in their teens as well as couples in their mid-50s, and everyone seemed to be singing along with equal enthusiasm.

The show opened with six-person a capella group “Street Corner Symphony,” the runners-up to NBC’s “The Sing-Off,” judged by Folds, Shawn Stockman and Nicole Scherzinger. The group was incredible, to say the least, performing both original work and pieces by Folds and other artists, like the Beatles and Radiohead.

Folds and the gang made their entrance by running onto stage with a bottle of red wine, and dancing and jumping around to a wordless techno dance-beat song for a few minutes. According to Folds, they like to get their “silly time” in before every gig.

He started out with a few new pieces from “Lonely Avenue” and continued to weave the new in with his older classics to make for a near perfectly well-balanced set.

A few songs in, Folds told a story about how he and his band try to do one cover per tour. For this tour, he said, they wanted to pick a song that held significance for each of them equally.

When they couldn’t come to an agreement, Folds decided they would cover whatever song was currently number one on iTunes. As a result, Ben Folds performing “Sleazy” by Ke$ha was the most entertaining, surprising and hilarious cover I’ve ever seen/heard. How he even found a melody in that song to create a piano part out of it is beyond me.

Later, he said he wanted us to help him make a video for “Working Day.” He called it a 1,600-voice choir and directed us how to sing lyrics and melodically stomp our feet for certain parts in the song while the other band members recorded everything on video.

The hands-down best part of the concert was being a part of something that Folds is obviously so passionate about.

He has such staggering talent and also knows exactly how to use it to entertain. When someone requested he play “The Luckiest,” he said, “Fine, but I’m going to play it in a minor key.” After a few lines, he broke into laughter and started over … in the right key, this time.

I already knew I was a sucker for guys who can play the piano. On Friday, I became a sucker for guys who aren’t afraid to throw things at theirs.

[youtube]3ugRrbwzdlc[/youtube]