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Tickling the irony

Goodbye, Billy Joel; hello Ben Folds

Ben Folds wants you to work the camera.
  • Ben Folds wants you to work the camera.

It's true the nigh 40-year-old pianist and singer has mellowed on his newest release, Songs for Silverman, but the clownish antics and acerbic wit he exhibited during his years with Ben Folds Five still are present, if subdued. Silverman is a tidy buffet of resignation and mortality, a tour through Folds' increasingly mature world.

Strange, yes, since this is the guy, you'll remember, who was known for lampooning an angry breakup by singing, "Give me my money back, you bitch," and who would hurl stools at piano keyboards. In an interview with Paste, he spoke at length about flipping over a 5-foot baby grand.

On the other hand, Folds always has been an artist of a higher caliber, a songwriter in the old-school sense of the word, a musician who has honed his craft as well as any of those he's so often compared to. In the space of a song, he'll move seamlessly from wry to cheerful to transparently depressing.

In Silverman's "Late," a eulogy for Elliott Smith, Folds devotes as much time to Smith's musical talent as he does to the fact that Smith threw elbows during pick-up games: "Elliott, man, you played a fine guitar / And some dirty basketball."

Folds' humor engenders honesty, if anything. Even "Brick," the song that put the "one hit" in Ben Folds Five's "wonder," is a source for satire. On the Ben Folds Five DVD, the band records the song for a live radio broadcast, during which Folds, unbeknownst to those listening, makes exaggeratedly hangdog faces at the camera. Sure, it's a sad song, he seems to say, but there's no reason to take it too seriously.

-- Aaron Retka


Odd Men Out Tour with Ben Folds, Rufus Wainwright and Ben Lee

Fillmore Auditorium, 1510 Clarkson St., Denver

Tuesday, Aug. 16, 6:30 p.m.

Tickets: $27.50; call 520-SHOW or visit

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