The crowd that came to see Ben Folds at The Ogden Theatre on Tuesday night demonstrated just how much love he still shares with his fans some twenty plus years after his raw voice and violent piano smashing first hit their ear drums. During that time, he’s become one of the industry’s most well-respected musical mavericks that does whatever the hell he wants however the hell he wants to do it. His fans love it. With an unmatched understanding of musical theory and an uncanny ability to evoke emotion through legendary lyricism, Ben Folds graces the stage this fall with his extremely popular Paper Airplane Request Tour. The tour continues all over the US with Tall Heights as the opener between now and mid-November. Check out the dates here.
We were lucky enough to snag a photo pass for the show thanks to Mr. Folds’ management – All Good Factory (thanks, Mike!). I bought tickets for the wife and I — I wouldn’t miss a Ben Folds show even if I didn’t get to cover it as press — but I spent much of the time working my way through the packed crowd to get the best pictures for you. We finished the night together hanging out in the balcony while Ben sifted through paper airplanes. But I’m getting ahead of myself; let’s talk about Tall Heights.
Tall Heights at The Ogden Theatre in Denver, Colorado
I spent most of the day listening to Tall Heights on Spotify to familiarize myself with their music. I’m always curious if an artist’s live performance is similar to their studio album. So let’s briefly talk about their studio sound. While they frequently reference Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes as musical influences, I would add a little bit of Coldplay, early Imagine Dragons, and even some Mumford & Sons. Toss all of that into a musical blender and you’d find yourself with a good mix of chill, pop, indie, and folk music — something Tall Heights likes to call “electrofolk.” That one word says more to me than an entire artist bio. It’s spot on.
Their live sound is decidedly acoustic. I loved their attempt to play a song unplugged — I literally shushed the people around me — but the realities of the venue made it impossible for anyone beyond the pit to hear it. So, regretfully, they plugged back into the sound system and amped it up. Short history: Tim Harrington and Paul Wright got their start as street musicians in Boston. I consider that part of their charm as musicians. After the first song, they worked the crowd by calling a guy in the second tier a scary giant. It got a good laugh, brought the audience into focus, and removed whatever disconnects existed for an unfamiliar opener at a piano rock show.
While they’re technically a duo, I always try to track down and call out any touring musicians I see on stage. Paul Dumas joined the band as their drummer for this tour. He seems like a fun addition based on this YouTube video they produced at the start of the tour. Check out Tall Heights on social media via Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
Pictures of Tall Heights at The Ogden Theatre in Denver, Colorado
Ben Folds at The Ogden Theatre in Denver, Colorado
Nothing I could write about Ben Folds would truly do his musical career justice. One does not simply tire of Ben Folds. Whether you first hear his music as Ben Folds Five, solo piano rock, or symphonic orchestrations, you’ll fall in love with his creativity again and again. Every exploration beyond the piano bench has brought new creative musical opportunities for Mr. Folds: movie soundtracks, a cappella, TV, orchestrations, concertos, collaborations with Nick Hornby and yMusic, and an entire tour featuring local symphonies. I saw Mr. Folds at Red Rocks in 2015 with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra; it was the most memorable musical listening experience of my entire life. If you weren’t able to experience that, don’t fret, check out his new live album recorded in Perth, Australia. It takes the magic of Ben Folds music and blends it with the talent of local orchestral arrangers and musicians. I’ve always respected Mr. Folds’ desire to foster and support musical excellence, especially at a local level. I was elated to hear that he was recently named the first Artistic Advisor to the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. He is truly a living legend within the music industry.
But this isn’t a biography; we’re talking about the Paper Airplane Request Tour and why you should go get tickets right this second! Even though I love the overwhelming emotion of an orchestra playing Mr. Folds’ music, there is nothing like a duet between the audience and Mr. Folds accompanied by his bandaged fingers on the piano. While I feel bad for his fingers, I’m certainly selfish enough to ignore my concerns while he plays. His fans know his music so well that he doesn’t even need to ask the crowd to sing the other parts… they just do it. The first half of the show was a well-crafted set list that featured songs from every stage of his career that all die-hard fans know by heart.
The second set is all about the paper airplanes. Audience members are encouraged to write song requests on paper airplanes and throw them on stage for a randomized set list that’s usually full of crowd favorites. Denver ended up with twelve songs instead of the usual ten due to a couple airplane failures. Depending on how mischievous Mr. Folds is feeling, he’ll play exactly what’s written on the paper… even if he has no clue what it means. For the Denver show, that meant we received two different, on-the-spot musical creations. The first, “Respect the Process,” seemed like an answer to the persistent cries of “Rock This Bitch” from the audience. If you’re not familiar with that song, we explained its creation in our 2015 article about the Red Rocks show (there’s even a video of it). The second creation was called “Blank Piece of Paper,” for obvious reasons. It’s always awesome to watch Mr. Folds create music on stage and it’s always good for a laugh.