Unfortunately, I cant make it to every show i would like to. The good news is that I have a lot friends who go to a lot of shows. Joshua Diskin was at the Ben Folds Five show at the Fillmore Detroit. Below is his fantastic review.
On October 2nd, Ben Folds Five made their triumphant return to the Detroit area and played to a nearly sold out crowd at the Fillmore Detroit. I grew up listening to Ben Folds Five and their piano driven pop ballads. Their chart topping album Whatever and Ever Amen, along with the pre-requisite self titled album Ben Folds Five and Naked Baby Photos, were middle school staples that certainly occupied spots in my go-to 24 slot CD booklet. So, like many in attendance who were craving to see the band in action after their decade long separation, I entered the venue with high expectations. It was a bucket-list musical experience to finally see them live and the concert delivered on all cylinders.
The show highlights for me started four songs in when Folds launched into the rockous Jackson Cannery. I couldn’t help my self but I was with my little brother and started to wave around my car keys during the chorus, “Big brother’s got the keys but I got Jackson Cannery”. It was corny- I admit- but I felt like it was my job to deliver some audience schtick. At the time, I was dancing under the assumption that bits may have been lost during the bands long hiatus and I had to do my part to make up for lost time. As soon as the band finished the tune, they sauntered into the beautiful and tortured “Selfish, Cold and Composed”. In clear fashion, the trio demonstrated their ability to switch emotional gears on a dime while keeping the interest level of their audience constant throughout. All too often, bands lose the attention of their fans when they offer audiences slower material. With an intuitive sensitivity that strikes to the core, Ben Folds has a unique capability amongst his rock-god peers to engage his fans even during cool downs.
The middle of the set continued to hit well with the back-to-back combo of fan favorite “Battle of Who Could Care Less” and the single “Do It Anyway” from the bands newest album The Sound of the Life of the Mind. Most of the material from the new album won’t find itself in the Ben Folds Five pantheon but “Do It Anyway” seemlessly fits in with any of the trio’s classics. Its that good. After the song finished, the band launched into Brick. I for one walked straight to the pisser and had a good laugh with fellow pretentious fans about how you know your a true Ben Folds Five fan when Brick is your pee break.
The rest of the show contained musical highlights in “Kate”, the main-set closer “Army”, where the crowd seemed to impress Ben with their sing-a-long capabilities, and “Song For the Dumped” that opened the encore with a bass riff from Robert Sledge that almost sounded like the Beastie Boys’ “Sabatoge”. It was heavy and explosive and created a nice dichotomy with the surprisingly softer sounding jams that emanated in between verses.
Despite hearing Ben Folds Five play live for the first time, my favorite part of the show might have been Ben’s juicy stage banter. In between nearly every song, Ben would launch into a rant, each time offering an insight tid bit either about the bands history or his own psychology. Sometimes he talked about the present (how their newest album has already dropped in an out of the top 10) and sometimes he talked about the past (how he took over England one night by shutting up a talkative crowd). But my favorite banter came right after the musical highlight of the night.
Out of nowhere, in the middle of the set, the trio began to play some improvisational jazz. It was fantastic, fresh; a window into what the band probably does most of the time when they just sit down to play. Afterwards, Ben said the jazz ditty was from a Ramsey Lewis Trio album. He explained that, back in the day, Ramsey Lewis was a top seller (fact check: “The In Crowd”, a song you’ll recognize instantly reached #13 in 1964). Ben continued to explain that today the trio is unknown in the mainstream but any old record store is rife with Ramsey Lewis Trio’s albums and suggested we check them out
After he ended the story and continued along with the set, I couldn’t help but feel that Ben Folds metaphoric story demonstrated a self-awareness about his own place in history. Years from now, if record stores still exist, they would contain Ben Folds Five albums that once spiked in popularity during their heyday. I have a feeling like that thought would sadden Ben Folds- that his entire professional life’s work may be delegated to a dusty part of a rarely visited record store. But I hope Ben Folds is confident enough in his musical legacy that just like the Ramsey Lewis Trio albums that influenced him (check out the mexican ranchero standard “Cielito Lindo” from Never on Sunday (1961) and hear the similarities with “Selfless, Cold and Composed” for an example of that influence), Ben Folds Five albums will surely leave their own legacy on future generations as well that happen to stumble by his music decades from now.
Nostalgia, one heavy drink, has always been a theme in the Ben Folds Five repertoire. Cheers to the band for continuing to pour it on in such adoring fashion.