Ben Folds Five
at Pearl Street
by Dana Buoniconti
It’s been much too long since there has been a sense of triumph in popular music, and no, I’m not referring to the Canadian power-trio, but to that honest-to-goodness sensation you get from listening to a band that captures the majesty of rock and puts a smile on your face with a sunny, sing-a-long chorus. Thank God, then, for Ben Folds Five. Hailing from Chapel Hill, NC., Ben Folds Five (for those of you doing the math at home, there are really only three members) has been tagged by some folks as sounding like an indie Billy Joel or Joe Jackson because of its piano-based sound.
Ben Folds Five (Ben Folds, piano and vocals; Robert Sledge, bass; and Darren Jessee, drums) played all the songs from their Caroline debut. Highlights were the poignant “Alice Childress,” a warm and fuzzy version of “Where’s Summer B.?,” and the soul-stirring grandeur of “Philosophy.” The band also introduced a few new songs, including “The Truth About Cats and Dogs” from a forthcoming Uma Thurman film, and the oddly-titled “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces.” A brilliant cover of The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star” made a smashing finalé, quite literally, in fact. Darren leapt from behind his kit and dove forearm-first onto the keyboard of Ben’s piano.
The trio sounded even better live than on record. Not only did the songs have a more aggressive energy, the soaring three-part vocal harmonies outshone those on the album – a feat rarely achieved. By combining catchy pop songs with stellar musicianship and that always-elusive sense of triumph, Ben Folds Five turned what could have come off as calculatedly retro into something (especially in this day and age of alternatives that aren’t) that was ultimately refreshing. At the end of the show, as Ben was high-fiving audience members, a goofy grin crept onto his face that made him look like a little kid. Funny thing is, the entire crowd, myself included, were sporting the same dorky smile. Pop music doesn’t have that effect much anymore.