Release Date: Jun 4, 2013
Record label: Sony Music
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
For longtime fans of singer/songwriter Ben Folds and his once-dormant pop-rock band Ben Folds Five—and especially for those who were late to the party and didn’t discover the group until after they’d disbanded—one of the more exciting things about the band’s reunion in 2011, even more so than the release of a whole album full of new material, was the chance to see (and hear) some of the band’s classic songs performed live again by the original trio. So, now that the reunion has happened, the band has thoughtfully put together a compilation of 15 live tracks from various venues during the 2012-2013 tour in support of their latest album, 2012’s The Sound of the Life of the Mind. The collection, straightforwardly titled Ben Folds Five Live, is a pretty solid release that should satisfy the band’s core fanbase, although ultimately, it is unable to really capture the spirit and energy that Folds is known for in his live performances—meaning it wouldn’t be a suitable replacement for actually seeing the group in person.
“I set out to have a piano band that rocked,” Ben Folds said of his band recently on Direct TV’s Guitar Center Sessions. He credits Nirvana with opening the doors for a band like his to make it on the scene, allowing him to carry an acoustic baby grand into punk clubs. And although he’s often billed as a pop act, Folds says his music has as much in common with jazz as it does with pop.
It took 20 years (and a reunion album) for Ben Folds Five to release a proper live album, and while the trio may not enjoy the same levels of athleticism that they did in their twenties, they've certainly lost nothing in the chops department. Recorded during their 2012-2013 tour in support of their fourth studio album, 2012's Sound of the Life and Mind, and culled from performances in the United States, England, Japan, Canada, and Australia, Ben Folds Five Live captures the group at their most professionally laid-back. Folds cuts an enigmatic figure in print, but on-stage he's clearly in his element, and when he launches into BFF favorites like "Underground," "One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces," "Narcolepsy," "Brick," and "Jackson Cannery," the fans reward him appropriately.
With Ben Folds Live, the good-humored pianist curated a live record that hit the hallmarks of any great concert: timeless singles (“Brick”, “One Angry Dwarf…”), non-album tracks (“One Down”, “Silver Street”), fun banter, a sing-along (“Army”), an unexpected cover (“Tiny Dancer”), and a duet with John McCrea (“Fred Jones, Pt. 2”). Unfortunately, where Ben Folds Live succeeded in capturing the genial, unpredictable atmosphere of a Folds concert, Live inopportunely fails.
It’s practically a given — in Rock ‘n’ Roll realms, those that pound the piano keys generally play second fiddle to guitar gods. Sure, Little Richard, Billy Joel, Elton John and Jerry Lee might dispute that notion, but for the most part, when it comes to posturing and posing, it’s the axe-slingers that grab center stage and attract all the attention. And while the occasional keyboard-based trios – i.e.