BEN FOLDS & YMUSIC | London, Palladium

A diagonal line of musicians (strings on the left, brass/woodwind on the right) sit on either side of Ben Folds who himself is perched behind a piano, head-on to the audience. It’s a very inclusive formation for the chamber rock ensemble connecting the London Palladium, the musicians and the sumptuous new arrangements of Ben’s back catalogue.

Olivia Chaney opened proceedings, fluttering eloquently between harmonium, guitar and voice. Her songs had the ability to move from slow building chords to dexterous moments of instrumental and vocal sophistication with subtle ease, whether evoking Northumberland folk, Nashville or Purcell. With Jordan Hunt on violin and vocals bringing warmth and depth to songs drawn from The Longest River (out now on Nonesuch) the set had an understated power that showcased Chaney as an extremely able songwriter, arranger and artistic force.

As for Mr Folds, several decades of song-writing has yielded several configurations of performance that have included solo, trio and orchestra. Tonight’s octet (Ben + drums + yMusic) delivered a pleasingly versatile vehicle for a wide variety of his catalogue. From yMusic’s deft overture to the evening, seamlessly into the pulsating ‘So There’ and the flourishing end to ‘Capable of Anything’ — the tale of the first half was one of orchestrated control. Things started to open up as Ben told stories about his dad taking him to boxing matches, touring in the UK and this being a ‘polite audience, by London standards’. Cue heckling. Cue improvised song ‘3 Yards’ (including improvised lighting design). Cue the cheekiness and humour to match the musicality.

Having played his Muhammad Ali waltz and described the kick-boxing efforts to beat ‘One Angry Dwarfand 200 Solemn Faces’ out of the piano, the more rambunctious  elements of the set were clear, as were the graceful moves across the canvas. Ben Folds can call upon any one of songs, musicians and audience to make any night special — all three were in place at the Palladium.

Ben Folds is on tour in the UK until 23 June. So There is out on New West Records.

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