Live in Ben's world

Oh, Ben Folds fans, we have yet another reason to rejoice and be thankful for yet another stellar release.

The latest DVD, 'Live in Perth' came out this week, and if you don’t have it yet -- buy it!

Like all of the Ben Folds releases in this age of the Internet, I ordered my copy of ‘Live in Perth’ the day it was announced in an email alert. I waited eagerly and watched the mailbox each day when I arrived home. And then when it arrived on Friday, ripped it open faster than Ralphie ripped open his Red-Rider BB gun.

I answered some email, watched the nightly news and then nuked some cheeseburger Hot Pockets before finally popping in the DVD and taking a seat. I should’ve know better. … Barely a few bites into my supper, my jaw dropped -- just like my fork, clanking on my plate below.

This show, if you don’t know already, features Ben performing with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. … It begins with a rush of notes from the symphony. Then, on a perfect cue, Ben enters, sits down at his baby grand and begins banging away with the symphony on ‘Zak and Sara.’

The arrangement is refreshing and mind-blowing, while the performance as a whole is, in one word, mesmerizing. Laughing in amazement, I wanted to stand up and just keep on clapping. And my supper was quickly growing cold.

After more great performances of ‘Smoke’ and ‘Fred Jones Part 2,’ and some cool interaction with the crowd, Ben and the symphony storm into ‘Steven’s Last Night in Town.’ Arguably my favorite song on the disc, the tune is as jazzy as ever, backed with impressive brass and string playing.

‘Boxing’ is good, and an arrangement of ‘Annie Waits,’ with its blaring brass and chimes, seems fit for a performance in the grandest cathedral on Easter Sunday.

The show is edited and filmed as if it originally aired as a PBS special, and there's no extra features on it. But none of that hinders the whole package ... If there’s anything wrong with the concert, it’s that the show does seem to wear a little bit in the second half with mellow songs like ‘Brick,’ ‘Evaporated,’ and ‘Lullabye’ (Hey, I’m not saying these songs are in any way bad, though…), and some darker arrangements, including one for ‘Narcolepsy.’ And while, Ben does get the crowd involved, albeit a little, during the always memorable ‘Not the Same’ -- another interactive crowd pleaser, ‘Army,’ and the concert mainstay 'Philosophy' are glaringly absent. (C’mon, how cool would it have been to hear symphony arrangements of THOSE songs!?)

Much of that is forgotten, though, when Ben does the encore and a fan -- it had to happen at some point -- yells ‘Rock This Bitch.’ In classic Ben form, he comes up with yet another version on the spot and, yes, even gets the orchestra involved.

If you haven’t been turned on to Ben Folds’ talents before, buy this disc and I guarantee -- you’ll be turned on now.

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This time next week, I will be in Ben's midst ...

Fans of Eric, Kathy and the gang at 101.9 WTMX The Mix, which presents the annual bash, have been hearing about this show for weeks. This year’s show will feature guest emcee Tommy Lee with performances from The Fray, a "special" (in other words, acoustic?) set from Alanis Morissette and headliner Ben Folds -- and it’s all at the beautiful, historic and legendary Chicago Theatre.

Tickets are on sale through Ticketmaster and the Chicago Theatre Box Office, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting LaRabida Children’s Hospital, located on Chicago’s lakeshore.

Ticket prices range from $50 to $75 though the box office. Although a check of eBay showed tickets available for as high as $399 (that's two tickets in the pit section... although there were no bids).

Now, if you’re thinking the lineup looks a little 1998, I’ll forgive you. But the fact remains Folds and Morissette are still pumping out good records and both are beginning to catch new fans with more recent releases.

Morissette, an icon of the ‘90s pop/rock music scene, just released a collection of her greatest hits, which of course includes "You Oughta Know," "Uninvited" (from the City of Angels movie soundtrack), "Hands Clean," and her biggest-selling hit, "Ironic." Additionally, the collection includes her dance cover of the Seal hit "Crazy," which is gaining moderate radio play.

Keeping in mind all of the hits the Canadian singer/songwriter/actress has churned out and this summer’s refreshing acoustic version of her smash album "Jagged Little Pill," the set by Alanis is sure to be a holiday treat.

The piano-pounding Folds, meanwhile, is still riding the success of his most recent solo album, "Songs For Silverman," which he released last spring. Since then he’s put out a set of revamped "Silverman" songs and interviews exclusively for iTunes and made an appearance on PBS’ legendary "Austin City Limits" series, and now of course has released the live DVD of his two-night stand last March with the 83-piece Western Australia Symphony Orchestra.

Aside from the witty lyrics and edgy jazz-meets-rock music, any Folds concert is an experience you’re unlikely to forget. Often compared to early Elton John or Billy Joel, Folds’ set lists combine his new music with long-standing favorites from his days leading the Ben Folds Five trio. Folds himself will beg you to sing along, even directing the audience for crowd-pleasers like "Army" and "Not the Same."

But as a prelude to Morissette and Folds, we get The Fray, a band critics are saying we’re sure to hear more from.

The Denver-based foursome formed in 2002 and, according to the band’s official Web site, has earned a loyal grassroots following with its uplifting melodic pop-rock songs and soaring vocals. The band signed with Epic Records in 2004 and released their debut album "How To Save A Life" in September.

The Fray’s style, again according to the band’s Web site, is "a sophisticated, emotional blend of tinkling pianos, acoustic and electric guitars, and gently insistent rhythms."

The bottom line? If you can’t find something to enjoy at this show -- now that would be a Miracle on State Street.

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In other Ben news ...

Here's a nice story I dug up during an Internet surf a couple weeks ago: Singer-pianist keeps rockin' the suburbs despite terrorist attacks.

Also, if you haven't checked out his web site lately, go there and look at the pictures section. There's a lot of cool new photos from Ben and some alternate album covers for 'Songs For Silverman.'

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