November 12, 2015 Ben Folds & yMusic Orchestrate a Whimsical Evening The Paramount Huntington, NY 11-1-15 w/ Dotan
Whether sitting down behind his piano, sitting on top of, or up in front it with a token glass of Scotch in his hand, Ben Folds can instruct and coax the best music from everyone around him, and including himself. An artist of diverse talents, Folds has been active in the music world since 1988 and the Winston-Salem, North Carolina native has had his hands in several different roles throughout his near three decade span in the music industry. Known in the early nineties for fronting the trio Ben Folds Five, and then taking on a solo career, the singer-songwriter has produced a multitude of studio albums, has attained chart-topping hits, and performed all over the world countless times. However, his true passion seems to lay in his ever busy creative endeavors. Folds has also collaborated with numerous other artists in different capacities, such as songwriting projects, creating soundtracks for animated films, and producing. Most recently, he has joined forces with New York City’s Classical-Pop ensemble, yMusic. Referred to by NPR as, “One of the groups that has really helped to shape the future of Classical music,” yMusic is a group of musicians fitting to Folds’ musical visions.
Folds, who was coming off from a year of touring his “Concerto For Piano and Orchestra,” where he performed orchestrations of his greatest hits with the aid of symphony orchestras, set down to record the “Concerto For Piano and Orchestra” with the Nashville Symphony. Unsure of how to stretch the recordings into an album, he started to work on new instrumentals and sought out other collaborators. When introduced to the ensemble of yMusic, he knew he had found what he needed. The end result was the full-length collaborative record, So There, released in September via New West Records. According to information listed on Folds’ website, Folds and yMusic spent six months arranging and orchestrating material, and they recorded the album over the course of a few months. What they came up with blends elements of Classical, Jazz, Pop, and Rock genres in a truly masterful way. Now, to fans delight, Folds and yMusic take their project on the road to venues across the country. Kicking the tour off on Sunday, November 1st, they arrived at The Paramount in Huntington, New York with supporting act Dotan.
Starting off the evening, the twenty-nine year old Indie crooner, Dotan Harpenau, who simply goes by Dotan, took front and center. Dotan is a singer-songwriter from Amsterdam, Holland, and though Dotan is a solo artist, he stated to the audience that he is normally joined on stage by six other members who all play percussion as well as join in on some vocals. However, for this set, he was joined by one other gentleman on acoustic guitar. Dotan himself, switched between an acoustic guitar and a single drum during his performance. Dotan, like many other artists, found his passion for music at a young age, though, he did initially pursue a career path in another direction. According to his bio, his profession was one that would be considered by others as a good job, but he felt it was a path that he chose to please others and that he had to find his own happiness.
Interestingly, Dotan admits that he suffers from stage fright. In order to help himself face his fear, he came up with the idea of playing in stranger’s living rooms; “Unplugged, on my own, with nothing to hide, in a room full of strangers; I could think of nothing scarier,” Dotan stated. So, he took to social media and placed a message on Facebook asking people to invite him into their homes. The end result was Dotan performing over 100 solo performances in places liked packed houses, farms, and even castles. The experience resulted in 7 Layers, Dotan’s self-produced studio album released in January of 2014. The album reached the Number 2 spot on the Dutch Top 100 Charts, and in the US, it reached Number 2 on the Billboard’s Next Big Sound chart. Central to the theme of this album, is water. Dotan has been noted as saying that water soothes him, that the sea is one thing that strikes him when he travels to different places and that he has quite a fondness for it. Water is often symbolized with life and rebirth, which would seem fitting in Dotan’s case of taking the leap of changing his life to pursue his dreams despite his fears. The audience of The Paramount was certainly glad that he did.
Soft acoustic guitar playing started and the audience took notice of soft, but commanding, voice that followed as Dotan started his set with “Hungry;” a song that speaks of longings and needs where love is just not enough. Livening up, adding the drum to the next song, some new material, “Dark of the Morning,” Dotan let his voice rise and fall like the howl of the wolves that are mentioned in the songs lyrics; an entrancing song that got the audience swaying. As Dotan introduced the next song, “7 Layers,” he explained that it was the most personal song that he has ever written. With introspective lyrics addressing secrets and discoveries, a metaphor was created about not knowing oneself in one’s own skin until you start figuratively peeling back the layers. A softer song followed, that built up to a fast-paced chorus in “Fall.” More swaying and reaction from the crowd, as the “Don’t we all fall” lyric could be heard repeating throughout the room. To finish up his set, Dotan took to the drum and began to hum the beginning to “Home.” Another song that was recognized and that the audience partook in when Dotan beckoned the crowd to sing along. By the closing notes, it was clear that Dotan had accumulated some new fans. He will continue to tour with Ben Folds until the 18th of November before bringing his tour back to Europe, so do not miss a chance to see him live.
When the stage was lit up again, the six musicians of yMusic sat in chairs in a U shape around Folds’ piano with instruments poised at the ready. As the lighting strobed across the stage, yMusic unleashed an intriguing composition, “Beautiful Mechanical;” the title track of their debut album released in September of 2011. yMusic, comprised of immensely talented musicians Rob Moose (violin, guitar, vocals), CJ Camerieri (trumpet, french horn), Gabriel Cabezas (cello), Alex Sopp (flute, vocals), Hideaki Aomori (multi-instrumentalist), and Nadia Sirota (viola), were all present and ready to make their presence known. Each individual instrument could be heard, yet, each sound blended together so seamlessly in a rise and fall motif that slightly resembled the hum of a train engine. Furious applause flowed from the audience at the completion of the piece. The stage then darkened, but a spotlight came on as Folds took a seat behind his piano. The piano came to life with the other instruments, slowly incorporated into the performance of “So There.” Afterwards, Folds addressed the audience, saying how he was sleep deprived but was able to play by muscle memory, however, he had no idea of what he was saying. With that playful tone set, he joked around with the other musicians, having them all do the wave during a soft and slow song, “Long Way to Go,” and drank his Scotch and cracked jokes during “Not a Fan,” a song about a two-week long relationship. The audience loved it.
In contrast to his comical side, Folds also showcased his musical prowess by challenging his ensemble with complex scales and calling out different keys for them to play in, as well as improvising material as he went along. He said that he holds every musician on stage accountable, including himself. He proved this when he started “I’m Not the Man,” and had to restart because he did not like the way his first note sounded. As Folds came up with clever singsong ways to introduce each musician of yMusic, he covered a bit of Skynyrd’s “Free Bird,” stating that several of the younger musicians have probably never heard this song. The audience was not free from this interaction either, as Folds stood up to conduct their harmonies for portions of “Rock this Bitch” and “Not The Same.”
It was clear that apart from the laughter, cheering, swaying, and singing along, fans truly appreciated this opportunity to live in Folds’ world for a while. To let him tell his stories/his songs, to witness as he drew new sounds out from his fellow musicians, in that very moment only briefly explaining keys as he went along; one fan stated, “This is music dork heaven.” With that said, Folds provided those in attendance a glimpse of the genius process of how he blends sounds and genres to create profound and authentic music. Hopefully this is only a taste of what is to come from the joining of Folds and yMusic. Their touring continues in the US until the 18th of this month, and Folds is continuing to tour into December. Catch a show before it is too late.