Fans headed to see Ben Folds this fall should remember to grab their keys, their ticket and a pen and paper. A good throwing arm would help, as well.
For this tour, the singer-songwriter is compiling his set lists from paper airplanes thrown onstage by the audience members. The airplanes have become custom for Folds, who spent the late ’90s as frontman of alternative rock band Ben Folds Five.
“I remember I was going to a gig and just having that idea and putting it out on Twitter,” Folds says. “When the gig started, people started throwing airplanes.”
The concept struck a chord with fans and the rest is history. Folds will play 40-plus paper airplane shows around the country this fall.
“It seemed like kind of an interesting idea that I might at least do part of a set without any idea of what I was going to play,” Folds says. “You pick up the planes and see peoples’ handwriting and it’s pretty cool.”
The format ensures every show is different — ranging from hits to B-sides to his solo albums, EPs and everything in between.
“It’s interesting, some parts of the country lean towards certain songs more or I’ll get the same request over and over again or won’t see that song then for four shows,” he says.
“It has a really good vibe to it.”
Folds jokes that his only preparation for the tour is “learning a good 80 of his songs that he’s forgotten,” but insists that he is down to play any of his songs… to an extent.
“I retain the right to just drop an airplane back on the floor and pick up another one,” he says with a laugh.
“For the most part, I don’t need to do that but you know, (when) someone writes, ‘Play a Bon Jovi song’ or something like that.”
A jack of all trades, even when he is not on the road, Folds stays busy.
His last album, released in 2015, was a chamber pop collaboration with the yMusic Ensemble and featured a piano concerto performed with the Nashville Symphony.
He has also contributed to film soundtracks, judged the reality TV competition, The Sing-Off, and most recently completed an assignment as a photo editor for National Geographic. His editor debut is years in the making as his interest in photography has grown over time.
“I started putting together a dark room when my kids were born,” he says. “I was making and printing photographs that I thought would mean something to them later on.”
He spent more time on his photos and once he hit the road, he expanded his passion for shooting into what he calls “a third act.”
While Folds has succeeded in a number of mediums, he doesn’t have much advice for growing artists beyond one word: “Try.”
“I don’t think it does anything but help someone to try other artistic disciplines if they’re in the arts,” he says. “If you’re a singer, try your hand at dancing or if you’re a writer, try music.”
The Paper Airplane Tour brings him back to just a piano on stage, a set up that he feels is real to his work.
“I think what I do, at its core, is songs played at the piano,” Folds says. “That’s the most honest. That’s it. That’s what I do.”
The Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress Street, Tucson, 520.740.1000, rialtotheatre.com, 8 p.m. Thursday, September 21, $35-$249.
The Marquee Theatre, 730 N. Mill Avenue, Tempe, 480.829.0607, luckymanonline.com, 8 p.m. Friday, September 22, $35-$249.