I've reached the age where I appreciate sitting down at a concert, and Mahaffey Theater is one of my favorite venues in Tampa Bay to do so. How much of this has to do with the multiple well-staffed bars and the ability to bring my drink to my seat? Maybe a lot. Don't judge. But seriously, the Mahaffey is gorgeous and the sound quality here is usually pristine, perfect for rocking out in a proper fancy people setting.
And appropos of 4/20, warm-up came from two members of the Amsterdam band Dotan, who played a short acoustic set of songs that seemed to belong on the next Garden State soundtrack.
yMusic -- a sextet that brings chamber music to life with hip poise and virtuosity -- kicked off the main event solo, flexing their finely honed classical chops with a performance of “Beautiful Mechanical” by American singer-songwriter/composer Son Lux. After the well-deserved applause, Ben Folds ambled onto the stage, settled in front of his piano, and they were off.
The first three songs came off his most recent collaborative album with yMusic, So There, and over the course of the night, they touched on seven of the LP's eight non-orchestral tracks. The ensemble clearly works wonderfully together and there were highlights and fun silly moments to spare: all eight musicians (including Ben’s tour drummer/percs man Sam Smith) executing the wave during “Long Way to Go”; the audience laughing along to the waltzing “Not a Fan,” a narrative about the evolution of a relationship, from the things that seem small and tolerable at the beginning due to blind infatuation, to the disgust that sets in once the shine has worn off; Smith playing an impromptu version of "Heart and Soul" on a tiny piano to Ben's obvious delight; Ben forgetting a chunk of the lyrics to “Mess,” which was still achingly stunning and sad; the cheekiness of “Erase Me,” which revealed everyone’s range as well as their shared senses of humor as it turned into a cacophony of sound with trilling flute, blaring coronet and washes of percussion.
My favorite part of the evening, however, came during “Steven's Last Night in Town,” its drum solo paying heavy dues to the big band classic “Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)" and competed with the Benny Goodman-style clarinet solo. A folky version of “Rock This Bitch” followed. After “You Don’t Know Me,” Ben briefly left the stage.
The encore of a few fans favorites, while short, proved magical and perfect for the setting: “Army” and "Not the Same." Ben made sure we all knew our parts during so we could sing along to “Not The Same,” the classic story of boy meets drugs, boy meets tree, boy meets God.
Ben Folds has such a great knack for finding young rising talent, from college a capella groups to New York chamber musicians, and the payoff is that his fans are enriched with new sounds and musical experiences. I was still humming to myself when Ben and yMusic walked off stage, and I don’t think I stopped until I fell asleep that night.