A Ben Folds Five reunion might, on the face of it, seem unnecessary, since Ben Folds has had his own solo career since the trio’s dissolution in 2000, including 2008′s Way To Normal (QRO review). However, that discounts how great those three BF5 records were, how well the three of them work together, the strength of their new The Sound of the Life of the Mind (QRO review), and more – and all were on display when they played the new Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY on Tuesday, October 9th.
Ben Folds Five had recently played NYC proper, at Central Park SummerStage (QRO venue review) on September 14th (and were playing NYC again two days later for NY Comic-Con – QRO NYC Show Preview), but Port Chester is far enough away that acts can play it and NYC without upsetting the NYC promoter & venue. However, though Port Chester is nestled near the Connecticut border, Metro-North runs an express there with only one prior stop (nearby Rye) during rush hour, which made Capitol Theatre (QRO venue review) easy access for city folk (it’s also just a block away from the train station). Still, the new venue wasn’t packed, but good for a Tuesday in October in the suburbs.
Opening for Ben Folds Five on this tour (and previously for Ben Folds solo – QRO photos opening for Ben Folds solo) was singer Kate Miller-Heidke. Accompanied only by a guitarist, Miller-Heidke was a little lonesome on stage, but made up for it with some hilarious stories about her songs, including that the one where a tiger eats a baby (it’s a metaphor…) wasn’t a “cannibal tiger,” just a regular one (but what about dingoes eating babies, as the Australian Miller-Heidke must surely have heard of?…), debating with an eight-year-old who wanted to sing a song of hers about what band should replace Sex Pistols in the lyrics for all-ages school consumption (he suggested Nickleback, she got him to go with Led Zeppelin – though he actually ended up sticking with Sex Pistols, after another boy at school covered Kings of Leon’s “Sex On Fire”…), an opera teacher telling her that her mouth, during an opera part of a song, “Should be as wide as her wide vagina…”, and more, including covering Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady”.
Ben Folds Five had some difficulty at first establishing their stage presence. With only three members, and two of them sitting, it can be hard, especially as Folds is stuck behind a grand piano. The first & third songs were new ones, “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later” and “Hold That Thought”, with the moving but slow “Missing the War” in between. Even more upbeat songs early in the set such as “Jackson Cannery” and the new “Erase Me” had trouble breaking out. However, the quiet weight to the band’s work stood strong in the middle in “Alice Childress”, “Sky High” (which was written & sung by drummer Darren Jesse on Sound, but sung by Folds at Capitol), Folds’ solo “Landed” (though one fan did remark that it was weird to hear a Folds solo song at a Ben Folds Five show), and the new “Thank You For Breaking My Heart”.
Ben Folds Five playing “The Battle of Who Could Care Less” live at Capitol Theatre in Port Chaster, NY on October 9th, 2012:
Ben Folds Five still have the impressive ability to mix quiet sadness with upbeat piano jaunts, but live the upbeat songs naturally are the most enjoyable – and that started in earnest with “Battle of Who Could Care Less”. The ode to slackers got the trio & the crowd going, and led great into new single “Do It Anyway”. That momentum could have been thrown off by the following “Brick”, the group’s breakthrough song about an abortion, but “Brick” is such a great song – the ‘best’ song about abortion out there – that it can do no wrong. Indeed, putting it between upbeat new numbers “Anyway” and “Draw a Crowd” meant that it didn’t overshadow the slower, sadder, quieter songs earlier in the set.
Ben Folds Five playing “Brick” live at Capitol Theatre in Port Chaster, NY on October 9th, 2012:
After calling an audible and switching “Philosophy” for “Narcolepsy” on the set list (QRO photo), the trio got really active in “Kate” (though it’s not about Miller-Heidke…), “Song For the Dumped” (nothing like hearing a crowd shout along, “Well fuck you, too!”), and especially “Army” before the encore break. The single from 1999′s The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, there’s no way you can’t have fun hearing it, but Ben Folds Five still managed to make it even better, live. A drumstick had slipped out of Jessee’s hand earlier in the song (that’s why drummers always have extras within reach…), over Folds’ piano and behind him – so when Folds wanted to conduct the crowd in the “Ba-da-ba” chorus sing-along, he naturally used it. The crowd not only knew “Ba-da-ba” by heart, but even knew that there are actually two parts sung in the chorus, and self-organized so that some would sing one, others the other – in perfect time. And right before the band resumed the verse, Folds sat back down at his piano & tossed the drumstick to Jessee, who grabbed it out of the air while not missing a beat!:
Ben Folds Five playing “Army” live at Capitol Theatre in Port Chaster, NY on October 9th, 2012:
The trio did return for an encore of “Magic” and “Underground”, with each of the three mock-singing parts of the latter mock-song’s opener. There was also some great banter as the evening went on and the band warmed up, including Folds saying what an honor it was to play the historic Capitol, “M.C. Hammer played here…”, trying to remember where something in the band’s history happened (it was in a parking lot in Austin, but not next to the Electric Factory, as that’s in Philly – as the crowd made sure bassist Robert Stedge knew – they eventually settled on the audience suggestion of Arby’s…), girls yelling “That’s what she said” vs. guys yelling (to the band) “Take it off!”, wasting all their energy on making the video for “Do It Anyway” with The Fraggles, and the locals’ great way of saying “Your sister’s assh…” (which Folds used to end “Army”).
Ben Folds Five playing “Do It Anyway” live at Capitol Theatre in Port Chaster, NY on October 9th, 2012:
The three Ben Folds Five records from the nineties have held up very well in this century/millennium, so it’s no surprise that the band can still pull it off on a new record & live. Folds has long had great stage banter and presence, which hasn’t been lost in the return of BF5. Yet the group still manages to wow even more than that. It’s great to have Ben Folds Five back.
Ben Folds Five playing “Kate” live at Capitol Theatre in Port Chaster, NY on October 9th, 2012: