Two weeks ago Ben Folds came to town for a two-night stint, playing the Lincoln Theatre followed by the 9:30 Club. I couldn’t get tickets for the 9:30 Club show because it conflicted with the Replacements (review forthcoming). At the time of the conflict, I was annoyed. I’m not a big Lincoln Theatre fan. Shows there always seem a bit boring/low energy compared to other local venues. But after seeing the show, I think the Lincoln Theatre was the better venue to see Ben Folds this time around, since he was with a classical sextet. It was a more subdued affair than the past concerts I’ve seen from him.
I nabbed second row seats in the general admission free for all. There was no opener. yMusic came out and did a song that I didn’t quite care for. Then Ben Folds joined them and they played several songs from their forthcoming album that were…okay. Maybe they’ll grow on me as I listen to them more, but the songs weren’t instantly enjoyable. It was a very low-energy way to start the show. Everyone just seemed waiting for them to play something we all knew. I figured they would play new songs, I just vastly underestimated how many new songs they would actually play at this point in the tour. The answer? The whole album. Plus a few more songs from just yMusic. Aka too many.
The yMusic folks were clearly really talented. And their songs with Ben were decent. It just didn’t instantly click. I’ve seen other bands (Wild Flag and Ex Hex as too examples) play a full set before their albums came out and it was magical. This was not.
The songs with just yMusic were worse. Again, super talented, but not my cup of tea. It reminded me of a lot of the songs on the White Album that I hate. Different styles, clearly, but I don’t care how many people tell me how “important” or “ground-breaking experimental” “Revolution No. 9” is…it’s still a shitty song. yMusic was that, but with classical music.
As for the positives, one of the yMusic ladies occasionally did fabulous vocal harmonies. That allowed for a great rendition of “You Don’t Know Me,” which I had previously only sing Ben perform while dueting with the audience. Regina Spektor would have been proud of this version, I think. “Jesusland” and “Effington” were good. Ben’s story behind “Steven’s Last Night in Town” was amusingly awkward and endearing. “Landed” was a clear highlight toward the end of the set. Still, I can easily list 20 songs that would have been more enjoyable than the majority of the setlist. As such, the whole evening was pretty underwhelming.
I’m even farther behind on concert reviews than normal. So I’ll start with one of my favorites as I catch up.
In mid-March, Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield came to town to support their new (and FABULOUS!) album of Elliott Smith covers. Unfortunately, they picked the Birchmere as the venue. Longtime Yeah Right readers will know my hatred of the Birchmere. I refuse to give a hoot about their history as long as they utilize their stupid system of making people get a number from the box office, sit around in a waiting room, and wait to be called in one at a time to the main concert room. This isn’t a deli. It’s a music hall. There should not be two lines. I got there relatively early (over 2 hours before show time) and was number 80 something. Who are these people arriving before 5:30pm? Don’t they have jobs?
Once I finally got through the ridiculous system, I grabbed a spot on the side and had some mediocre chicken tenders. After seemingly an eternity Seth and Jessica (and a stand-up bass player) took the stage, which was decorated like a kitchen (complete with an operating tea kettle that they utilized during the show), because, why not? I guess. No opener.
Their 20+ song set featured their whole album of Elliott Smith covers (plus more), several other covers (The Beatles “I Will,” Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman,” Hank Williams’ “Settin’ the Woods on Fire,” and, probably my favorite, Darlings’ “There is a Time”), plus many songs from Jessica and Seth’s respective repertoires. To make their songs more interesting Seth tended to sing Jessica’s songs and vice versa (though Seth did some of his own, presumably to balance out the Jessica-heavy nature of most of the ES covers). Seth doing “Our Hearts are Wrong” was my favorite of the non-ES songs, especially since when Seth gets into a grove and really starts to rock out, he has an dances in place in outrageously goofy.
As for the ES covers, and I would never say this lightly because I am a huge Elliott Smith fan…everything other than “Miss Misery” worked better as a duet. The songs had so much depth. And Jessica’s voice has a haunting quality that was just perfect for these songs. It was truly outstanding.
They ended their set with “Between the Bars” (my favorite) before returning for a three-song encore. “Somebody that I Used to Know” was another highlight for me.
I'm woefully behind on concert reviews, but let me give you a spoiler on the reviews that are coming: The Replacements have put on the best concert in DC in 2015 so far. They had some steep competition from Sleater-Kinney, but damn were they fantastic last week at Echostage. A highlight was seeing a lady my mom's age absolutely lose her shit when they played "Can't Hardly Wait." So, rock on, old lady. It's the SOW: