The Wiltern August 16 2023 Photos by A Rood Photography and review by Jason Berk

It’s been nearly thirty years since Ben Folds burst onto the national scene with his trio, Ben Folds Five. While initially garnering comparisons to the “angry young men” of the 1970s like Joe Jackson and Billy Joel, the intervening years have proven that Folds is not only a top-tier tunesmith but also a lyricist who can plumb emotional depths, even when dealing with unconventional themes.

During the Los Angeles stop of his ongoing tour, a packed Wiltern Theatre saw Folds mostly skewing towards the emotional. Focusing largely on material from his latest album, What Matters Most, his first album in eight years (and his first release of all-original pop material in fifteen), Folds crafted a set that touched on heavy themes — raising a child in an unforgiving world (“Still Fighting It”), the death of a close friend (“What Matters Most”), and enduring a toxic relationship (“Fragile”). Yet, the show was not a dour affair — Folds has always been renowned for his unique sense of humor, and songs like set opener “Exhausting Lover” (about a regrettable one-night stand) and his homage to that one Facebook conspiracy nut we all seem to know, “Kristine From Seventh Grade” provided a lighthearted balance.

Check out the gallery of photos from this night here.

Backed by a five-piece ensemble that included opening act Tall Heights, Folds was a consummate host, telling stories and cracking jokes between songs, and handling any unexpected issues with grace (like some frequent popping noises during 2008’s “You Don’t Know Me”). Folds even acted as choirmaster, teaching the audience the three-part harmonies for 2001’s “Not the Same.” Though the set featured eight out of his new record’s ten songs, Folds made sure to revisit cherished classics, like 2005’s “Landed” and rousing closer “Zak & Sara,” from his 2001 solo debut. And while songs from Folds’s previous band have not been featured in most shows on this tour, the crowd at the Wiltern was treated to a special solo performance of Ben Folds Five deep cut “Eddie Walker.”

Whether the material was from 1994 or 2023, one thing was clear: Folds has lost no strength as a writer or performer. While he no longer ends his sets by hurling his stool at the piano, Folds remains a dynamic presence in popular music, and though he has recently claimed that his newest record may be his last, Folds is showing no signs of packing it in and going, as one of his new songs states, “Back to Anonymous.”


Exhausting Lover

Winslow Gardens

Clouds With Ellipses

Losing Lisa


Kristine From the Seventh Grade

The Ascent of Stan

Still Fighting It

Back to Anonymous

What Matters Most


You Don’t Know Me


Not the Same


Eddie Walker
(Ben Folds Five song) (Solo)

Annie Waits
(Joined by band at end)


Zak and Sara

Check out the gallery of photos from this night here.

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