Ben Folds Five Bayou Music Center September 25, 2012
In the recent rash of rock reunions this past year, it was perhaps the reuniting of Ben Folds, Robert Sledge and Darren Jessee that was the most warranted and most fully realized.
After years as a solo act, piano man Folds and his Chapel Hill, North Carolina brethren found themselves in a studio after over twelve years of silence, making a new album, The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind, and recapturing the jazz, rock and lo-fi elements that made them so special in the '90s.
Tuesday night's Bayou Music Center set reaffirmed the credentials of the BF5, while not devolving into a nostalgic victory lap. Folds solo was fun, but Folds with Sledge and Jessee is too much fun. It doesn't hurt that they returned with a decent album either, which isn't something most rock reunions can say.
Folds solo was missing Sledge's scummy bass and Jessee's light wrist on drums, and the sound of the latter two harmonizing (bah-bah-bah) makes even the most caustic Folds lines -- missing from his solo stuff -- sound like classic AM Gold madness.
But the trio still understands they come from another era, a virtual millenia in pop-culture memory. A big portion of the crowd last night probably only knew Folds from his solo career, the reality show stints, and the like, and BF5 lines like "Gimme my money back, gimme my money back you bitch," don't have the bouncy quirk of "Rockin' The Suburbs".
The stories that Folds conjures up with the BF5 and the characters that inhabit them have a certain nobility to them that I didn't hear from his solo work. Something like "Annie Waits" was just Folds lite.
Folds introduced "The Battle of Who Could Care Less," by explaining the genesis of the song and the characters -- General Boredom and Major Apathy -- and the timeless art of hipsters vying to "care less than the other dude."
The band's pop calling card, "Brick", came halfway through the night, with Sledge working up a sweat on the upright bass. "Alice Childress" was just one of four cuts the trio would snag off of their 1995 self-titled debut, six came from 1997's breakthrough Whatever And Ever Amen, and only two from their 1999 first wave goodbye The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner.
The rest would come from the new Life of the Mind, which very much picked up where Messner left off, but now the trio can benefit from over a decade of experience that Folds has under his belt.
The band seems to be firing on all cylinders in 2012, and hopefully this reunion sticks around for awhile. I wouldn't mind them pulling through town with a new (quality) disc every few years, since they are so much fun to watch live, especially the way they can lock into one another.
Personal Bias: So Folds is basically the closest thing Generation X or even Y will get to a Burt Bacharach or a Randy Newman of our own. No big deal.
The Crowd: A lot of first-line BF5 fans, plus a lot of newer concerts from Folds' solo stuff and the like.
HAHA Moment: Well, we could have gotten "One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces" had the band not stopped to improvise a birthday tune for a Tammy in the front row. Happy 40th, Tammy.
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Random Notebook Dump: The PA at Bayou Music Center seemed to still be traumatized from Sunday night's Pretty Lights gig, making Sledge's bass way more crunchy than he probably wanted it. You could smell the EDM in the air.
Essential Cuts: "Draw a Crowd," "Kate" "Sky High," "Song For the Dumped"