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Ben Folds Five at Mountain Park
Photo by Autumn de Wilde
Ben Folds Five
“I don’t normally wear Depends, but tonight is a Depends night,” announced Ben Folds during the opening night of the current Ben Folds Five tour. Folds explained that his nerves stemmed from the fact that this show marked the first time the band was performing songs of its new album The Sound of the Life of the Mind, which at the time of this performance had not yet been released.
The album is the band’s first record in 12 years. After releasing three successful albums in the mid-90s, Ben Folds Five called it quits in 2000. They reunited earlier this year (they earlier played a one-off show in 2008) and performed a few festival dates before launching this current tour.
So while it is understandable that Folds would have some first night jitters, they were all for naught. He and the band, drummer Darren Jessee and bassist Robert Sledge, played a seamless high energy set of their trademark piano pop-rock that clearly lived up to fan’s expectations.
The band opened its 90 minute set with “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later,” a poppy new song that which is about a friend Folds randomly encounters over the years. They followed with “Jackson Cannery” off their 1995 debut.
From there, the set shifted between songs like the punk influenced “Uncle Walter” that featured some great fuzzy bass work from Sledge, to introspective pretty ballads like “Selfless, Cold and Composed.” The band also played its biggest hit, “Brick,” and crowd favorite “Battle of Who Could Care Less.” The trio’s chemistry was undeniable, reminding us that while Folds enjoyed a successful solo career in his years away from the band, he created his best work with them.
The new material fit right in, and as with all Folds’ work, it featured hard hitting rhythms, infectious melodies and humorous lyrics. “Sky High” is an appealing ballad on which Jessee wrote the lyrics and then there is “Do It Anyway,” with its thundering rhythms and some ragtime style piano work by Folds. It is a catchy song about taking risks that is perhaps the strongest of the new songs.
Folds, a consummate showman and first rate pianist, brings piano-based rock to a new level. His fingers flashed across the keyboards as he displayed a style that’s influenced as much by jazz as it is Elton John.
He is also a very funny guy. At one point Folds told the story of how a journalist accused him of being an asshole, which prompted him to start singing the refrain “I’m not asshole.” Then the band joined in with some jazzy accompaniment as the crowd started singing along.
The night came to a close with the double punch of “Army” and “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces,” proving that a band led by a geeky looking guy playing piano could rock out with the best of them. The group then encored with “Song for the Dumped” and ended with “Underground,” during which Folds sang the line “I’m sure you don’t remember me.” This crowd certainly remembered the Ben Folds Five and judging from the reaction they were thrilled to have them back.
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