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Ben Folds is back with new single, album and Riverside Theater date

The last time Ben Folds released a studio album, the United Kingdom was still part of the European Union.

The last time he visited Milwaukee, we were mere weeks away from lockdown.

On Wednesday, he announced plans to end both of those droughts. What Matters Most, his first LP since 2015’s excellent So There, will arrive June 2. A little more than two months later, he’ll arrive in Milwaukee to play an Aug. 8 show at the Riverside Theater.

The general public is probably most familiar with Folds thanks to “Brick,” the 1997 song he released with Ben Folds Five (there are only three people in the group) that cracked Billboard’s top 20. Or possibly 2001’s “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” his first big single as a solo artist.

If you haven’t kept up with Folds since then, the wisecracking bordering on crass sense of humor is still there, as is his ability to create entire character studies in less than four minutes. But he’s been more overt about flexing his compositional muscles, debuting a piano concerto in 2014 and the aforementioned So There, a chamber pop album of all things that featured the yMusic ensemble.

For his most recent stop here in February 2020, he roped in the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and delivered a memorable night at the Riverside. It seems he’ll go without the 70-member backing band this time around as he tours behind a new album that has a lot of intention behind it.

“I come from the vinyl era, and this perhaps more than any record I’ve made is a true album,” Folds said in announcing What Matters Most. “There’s a very specific sequence and arc to each side, all building up to this almost surreal positive finale, and that structure was really important to me. More than anything, I wanted to make an album that was generous, that was useful. I want you to finish this record with something you didn’t have when you started.”

The upcoming August date in Milwaukee will undoubtedly feature tracks from his latest LP. But, with an artist like this who prides themselves on their improvisational abilities, not knowing what you’re going to get is why you go in the first place.

You can pick up tickets via three presales happening today — artist (code: WHATMATTERSMOST), Spotify and Pabst eMember (code: VALENTINE). The general sale starts at 10 a.m. this Friday, Feb. 17, online and at the Pabst/Riverside box offices.