Any Ben Folds fan will tell you that his latest album, “Way to Normal,” is disappointing schlock. Naturally, therefore, I was bracing for the worst when I went to see him at the Shubert Theatre this past Saturday. Let’s be frank: despite Folds’ prowess as a performer (You have to have a sizable stick up your ass to not enjoy his juvenile energy and nimble ivory-tickling.), the songs Folds played off of “Normal” were still pretty bad live. But in a 25-song set full of fan favorites, the trash was interspersed with enough good material to make the evening worthwhile. So even though his ensemble led off with the abysmal groovings of “Dr. Yang,” it wasn’t long before they flowed back into the John Hughesian narratives of “Annie Waits” and “Best Imitation of Myself” that truly exhibit Folds’ forte as a songwriter. If “Way to Normal” is Folds’ sellout album, at least he understands that fans attend his shows to take a slow, bittersweet trip through the landscapes of angst and alienation he paints so well.
Folds was preceded by Yale’s own Out of the Blue, who sang the Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights,” Regina Spektor’s “Fidelity” and Folds’ “Underground.” Maybe it was because a cappella seemed out of place before an act that depends on the energy of its instrumentals, but OOTB’s performance failed to rise above the level of cutesy. That said, their rendition of “Underground” was pretty damn cute.