Irony, Jews for Jesus, pots and pans, bass solos, and “Bitches ain’t shit”: These were the defining aspects of Saturday night’s Ben Folds and Eef Barzelay show at Mandel Hall.
The night started typically enough, with hundreds of students waiting out in the relative cold as the line moved at a snail’s pace. While this surely annoyed many and caused a rushed start to Barzelay’s set, MAB has since explained that during the first 10 minutes security confiscated five (five!) knives (knives?!), and had to maintain thorough bag searches on the nearly 900 attending students. Seriously people, this is Ben Folds at the U of C. There is absolutely no need for you to be packing—unless, of course, you are doing so ironically.
Enough politics and onto the music: Former Clem Snide frontman Eef Barzelay sauntered onstage after being introduced as our backup prom date. His music actually set in well over the babble of an audience that really didn’t care much about what was going on. Playing mid-tempo, snarky pop tunes on a clean-toned electric, Barzelay reminded this writer of a not-so–self-serious John Mayer—that is a compliment, I think. Indeed, the adolescent topics of his songs ultimately meshed well with the top bill. He was even able to quote Folds’s “Brick” at the end of his set without sounding like a complete sycophant.
Afterward, Ben Folds promptly took the stage with his bassist and drummer. By the by, he really does need a name for those guys: Let me suggest Ben Folds and the Ironically Named Band-to-Be-Named- at-a-Later-Date. From the get-go it was obvious these guys brought the energy and were definitely excited to debut some of their newer songs off of their to-be-released record. In fact, much of the early part of the set consisted of brand-new tunes like the opener “Errant Dog” and “Hiroshima,” an arena-sized anthem about this one time Ben “busted his ass” after falling off a stage in Japan.
After a ball-busting half -hour of the trio, Folds slowed things down for a solo portion that featured older ballad-types such as “Fred Jones Pt. 2,” “The Luckiest,” and “The Last Polka.” One certainly gets the feeling that while Ben is a very comical guy on stage, he never has been very lucky with women—or he’s a total nutcase, whichever—as evidenced through his earnest attachment to older songs, like “The Luckiest,” and the vigorous irony-filled resentment of new songs, like the rollicking “The Bitch Went Nuts.”
After the band came out to close the set, things certainly became more raucous. While jamming a bit to some major sevenths, Ben tried his hand at making up lyrics about the U of C (apparently we need to get rid of ivy if we want to avoid “getting pissed on in the hall”). Following that fun jaunt was a stretched-out version of the classic “Zak and Sara,” during which Ben had lots of fun with the vocoder setting on his synth. During the final two songs, his 2001 hit “Rockin’ the Suburbs” and a “fastest-ever” version of “One Angry Dwarf and 2000 Solemn Faces,” this writer, a relative veteran of MAB shows, saw something he’d never expected from the crowd: Indeed, University of Chicago students (I’m guessing not the same ones who brought the cutlery) crowd-surfed. Nearly everyone, the band included, found this eminently amusing. In fact, Ben found it so hilarious he dedicated the set closer to the guy who got that started. Must not be an everyday thing for those guys; congratulations to them.
Ten minutes and plenty of slow-claps and chants later, the band reappeared to bless us with a one-song encore, a mid-tempo cover of Dr. Dre’s classic “Bitches Ain’t Shit.” As this was the ubiquitous favorite among the crowd (they were calling for it all night), it was nice to see a band give the crowd what it wanted. Actually, this was probably true for the entire evening. Perhaps here is where the wisdom of MAB’s selection for this winter comes into play. After weeks of cold, degrading weather and with finals looming, all we really needed was a flashback to 1997, when most of us were in middle school and didn’t really have a care in the world. Surely that was the greatest profit this writer got from the evening, and he’s probably not alone in that.