Friday, July 12, 2013

Ben Folds 13: Live

Not long after their reunion failed to set anything outside the hearts of diehard fans afire, Ben Folds Five continued their tradition of stopgap souvenirs with their (but not his) first live album. Live is taken from the tour supporting The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind; four of that album’s songs appear here, fitting well with the grab bag of older songs. (“Do It Anyway”, for example, transcends its irritating studio version by revealing itself as an expansion of the opening number from Jesus Christ Superstar.)
The album is compiled from several different shows, leaning heavily on San Francisco’s Warfield Theater, so the track selection seems almost random. Songs from their ‘90s heyday get plenty of response, and the boys play all with enthusiasm (“Narcolepsy” is extended to nine and a half minutes with a lengthy jazz odyssey). If there’s a dud, that would be “One Chord Blues/Billie’s Bounce”, yet another variation on “Rock This Bitch”. However, “Landed”, the only original here from the “solo” years, is a wonderful performance.
Mostly it’s a straight trio performance, with only one discernable appearance of a non-piano keyboard. And the piano isn’t so much attacked, as before (except on the closing “Song For The Dumped”); instead Ben throws his energy into wildly inventive explorations, proving that they’re more than a potty-mouthed novelty act. Or so it would seem from the performances sampled here.

Ben Folds Five Live (2013)—3

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