9.21.2008

Ben Folds Five: Simply Magical

At the end of "Song for the Dumped," Ben Folds stood up from the piano with piano stool in hand, shrugged at the crowd and chucked the stool at the keyboard. Robert Sledge took off his bass, waved to the crowd and walked off the stage. Darren Jessee stepped off the drum riser and left the stage. The hall lights came back on and recorded music started coming out of the speakers, the universal symbol that the concert is over.

Then something happened that I have never seen before: no one left. Everyone in there was on their feet, clapping, cheering and even chanting "Ben Folds Five!" They didn't care about the lights or the music, they wanted the band to come back out. This went on for almost 10 minutes until the stage work lights came on and workers started taking down the equipment.

The spell was instantly broken and people started filing out of the auditorium. But everyone left smiling.

For a good hour-and-a-half, the Ben Folds Five mesmerized everybody in UNC-Chapel Hill's Memorial Hall during their one-off reunion show for MySpace's Front to Back series. The first part of the show featured the trio playing their final album, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner. Myspace was filming the show for their website, which kept Folds from interacting more with the audience, but there still seemed to be a great connection between the group and the crowd. Crowd-favorite "Army," which Folds later said was the "beginning of the end of the commercial success" of the band, had everyone dancing around and singing at the top of their lungs. This time, though, he didn't need the audience to help with the horn part during the bridge, he had his own horn quartet to back him up. But that didn't stop the crowd from joining in.

But nothing compared to when Dean Folds, Ben Folds dad, walked out on stage to recite "Your Most Valuable Possession," a track on the album that features an answering machine message from Dean put to lounge-style music. As soon as Dean said the first like -- "Good morning, Mr. Ben" -- the crowd went nuts. I was wondering how they would approach this track or if they would even play it at all. I couldn't be more pleased with how it turned out.

After the album's final track, "Lullaby," Ben Folds Five walked off the stage to thunderous cheers. But everyone knew they would come back.

And comeback they did. They launched into "Jackson Cannery," a song off their self-titled debut and proceeded to play a mix of songs from that album and their most popular album, Whatever and Ever Amen. They even played their first ever single, "Eddie Walker," and talked about recording that track: "I think we all had to take off work to drive out to Hillsborough one night."

After almost 10 years, the band looked really tight. Other than a few synth slipups from Sledge and Folds forgetting about his grandma in "Regrets," the performance was flawless. But a few mistakes are to be expected: Unauthorized Biography is by far the most complex album the trio released. Folds even admitted that if he'd "known about this show 10 years ago, I would have sequenced the album differently."

All in all, it was a magical experience that I feel honored to have been a part of. I couldn't have imagined anything better.

And I even got a free T-shirt.

Setlist:

The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner
Narcolepsy
Don't Change Your Plans
Mess
Magic
Hospital Song
Army
Your Redneck Past
Your Most Valuable Possession (w/ Dean Folds)
Regrets
Jane
Lullabye

Encore
Jackson Cannery
Eddie Walker
Selfless, Cold and Composed
Battle of Who Could Care Less
Where's Summer B.?
Julianne
Song For the Dumped

2 comments:

Chris Monaghan said...

Granted I wasn't there, but I heard many complaints about the length of the set. It seems you're swooned quite surely, but most of the Ben Folds Fans I have talked to seemed angrily disappointed with the show.

Corey said...

I can see why people would be upset with the length of the set. It could have been longer. But at the same time they played a full album plus a seven song encore and they haven't played together in 10 years, which means they probably had to work on all these songs again to get them ready.

Anyway, I'm not the only one that was a fan of the show. See this and this.