Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ben Folds at the House of Blues; or the Anti-Hipsters

One thing I enjoy about seeing Ben Folds is knowing that I will be in a crowd of unabashedly sincere fans, otherwise known as a hipster-free zone. Since my tastes have run toward more of the obscure and indie over the past several years, I often find myself drowning in a sea of hipsters. And I really hate hipsters. I was having a conversation with some friends of mine about this and I got a completely blank stare when I mentioned the word “hipster.” Evidentially it’s not the universal term I thought it was? So before I go any further, let me briefly explain what a hipster is just in case the term’s unfamiliar to you (Jen and Laura, this is for you!).

So let’s play a game of “You might be a hipster if…” You might be a hipster if your clothes look like they came from a thrift store but you actually spend $200 on your jeans. You wear 80s-inspired shirts and dresses (girls) and v-necks and cardigans (guys). You have an ironic beard or mustache. You eat only organic foods. You ride your bike everywhere even though you have a car. You no longer like a band or artist once they break into the mainstream or (God forbid!) get played on the radio. Hipsters are almost always white and were raised upper-middle class but look down on people that are wealthy and successful. Hipsters abhor anything that’s considered mainstream and pride themselves on being non-conformists even though they’re All. Exactly. Alike. Above all, hipsters want to be thought of as cool and original; they all want to be artists of some kind even if they have no discernable artistic talent. Hipsters live in fear of being considered un-cool. More than anything, hipsters hate sincerity so they’ll never admit to loving anything.

And that’s why you’ll never find a hipster at a Ben Fold show, because Ben Folds fans really LOVE Ben Folds. They know every word to every song so his shows always turn into big group sing-a-longs which is just so much fun. And the singing along includes not just the words but every la-la-la and bum-bum-bum. During “Bastard,” from his second solo album, Ben treated the audience as a choir, separating them into four vocal parts to do crescendo-ing background vocals during the song’s climax. It’s a complicated song, with a combination of unusual time signatures, that Folds dubs “Math rock.” And he’s a piano virtuoso, who could easily change things up live. The fact that he doesn’t says something about his relationship with his fans.

A lot of singer songwriters dramatically change their songs up live because they get so bored of playing their songs the same way over and over again (anyone who’s seen Bob Dylan in the last 20 years can attest to this – he makes his signature songs all but unrecognizable). My friend Erin was commenting on what a musical genius he is and how he could easily rearrange his songs live, but he doesn’t because he knows how much his fans enjoy participating in the songs. And it’s obvious he enjoys them as well, often grinning widely at the crowd during their more boisterous singing. It’s pretty much a love fest and I always leave his shows in a good mood, happy to be surrounded by anti-hipsters. Moving to Texas, I’m looking forward to the fact that I’ll have a lot less hipsters to contend with. Now I’ll just have to deal with country music fans. Sigh.