In a sold-out concert Thursday night at the Civic Center Music Hall, Ben Folds possibly set a new standard for pops performances with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic. Folds was tireless, from the first notes of “Zak and Sara” to the final syllables of “Army,” and his love of orchestral work came through, both in his supportive words for local symphonies and in his obvious love of working with them.
Folds, who emerged as part of the post-grunge alternative music scene in the mid-1990s, cultivated a strong following with his strong melodies, wry lyrics and impeccable piano skills. But in 2005, Folds undertook a partnership with the Western Australia Symphony Orchestra (WASO), commissioning local composers and arrangers in and around Perth, Australia to create orchestral charts for his work. His March 2005 performances with WASO led Folds, who also serves as a judge on the NBC vocal competition “The Sing-Off,” to continue his work with local symphonies. As he said after a gorgeous performance of his 1997 song “Smoke,” turning toward the orchestra, “I brought my band.”
Spending most of the set either sitting at or hunched over the Philharmonic's Steinway grand piano, Folds' repertoire extended from mid-1990s Ben Folds Five songs such as “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces” to recent songs such as “Cologne,” which Folds wrote while heavily sedated during a bout with pneumonia in Germany. Folds was generous with anecdotes, telling stories about the sometime Paul McCartney sideman who inspired the swing-flavored “Steven's Last Night in Town,” and talking about Paul Buckmaster, the famed orchestral arranger who created the distinctive strings on Elton John's “Tiny Dancer” and wrote the charts for Folds' 2005 single, “Landed.”