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The Ben Folds Five Army

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So how was Thursday night's Ben Folds Five reunion show, you ask? For starters, I'd say it was a great moment in local-music history, and one of the coolest shows I've seen this year; and during "Army," I seriously thought everybody in the room was going to have a heart attack because we were all making like Tom Cruise in "Risky Business."

It felt like a privilege to be there. The review is below.

(photo by Emily Shur.) 

ADDENDUM (12/15/09): Ouch.


By David Menconi, News & Observer
Sept. 22, 2008

CHAPEL HILL -- That real-estate axiom of location, location, location can apply to concerts, too. Like the Ben Folds Five reunion show at UNC-Chapel Hill's Memorial Hall Thursday night, the trio's first performance in eight years.

Put that show in New York, and it's just another show in the big city. But put it in Chapel Hill, the trio's hometown during their mid-'90s heyday, and it's cool. Throw in a delirious crowd salted with many of the band's local peers from back then, and it's special. Throw in a few songs steeped in local lore, and it's supernatural.

The evening's most spine-tingling moment came with a raucous version of 1999's "Army," Ben Folds Five's final moment of mainstream pop stardom, and a song that now feels like an anthropological document of a bygone indie-rock generation. As the band dropped out to let the crowd scream the crescendo, "God please spare me more rejection," it felt like a circle closing.

Thursday's show was a one-off reunion for MySpace's "Front to Back" series, featuring one album played in its entirety. So the first half of the program consisted of the group's 1999 swan song, "The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner." In many ways, it's the quintessential Ben Folds Five album, swinging between brilliant pop and wild self-indulgence with a sequence guaranteed to tax attention spans.

"It's not an immediate-gratification record, " Folds acknowledged. But while "Reinhold" seemed like an over-reach at the time (and also performed dismally on the charts), it has aged surprisingly well. Thursday night, it sounded terrific.

There was a sense of pent-up anticipation as the band took the stage, and the sold-out house gave a gigantic "whoo" as the band hit the big raveup on the opening "Narcolepsy." Other high points were the spectral piano riff to "Hospital Song, " the Steely Dan vibe of "Jane" and the big surprise of the night, Folds' father Dean, onstage to recreate his voicemail recording on "Your Most Valuable Possession."

Given that it's been eight years since the trio's last show, it wasn't surprising that a bit of rust showed. Folds forgot the words halfway through "Regrets, " bassist Robert Sledge had a clam or two on synthesizer and drummer Darren Jessee wasn't the tightest he's ever been.

But everything was pretty air-tight for the second half of the show, when the trio went deeper into their back catalog, all the way back to "Eddie Walker" from their very first single. They completely nailed the atmospherics of both "Selfless, Cold and Composed" and "Where's Summer B.?, " with the latter song's reference to the long-gone Hardback Cafe adding a note of poignancy to the evening.

"Battle of Who Could Care Less" was another massive crowd sing-along, a perfect little nugget of attitude dressed up as summertime pop. And "Song for the Dumped" felt like a temporary pass to be a callow adolescent again, a virtuoso display by all three players as well as the crowd on howl-along vocals. At the end, Folds picked up his stool and heaved it at the piano.

Some things never change.


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sounds like sheer bliss,

sounds like sheer bliss, stoked for you

Hands down...

best show that I have ever been to. The atmosphere was electric, people were singing along like crazy, and the place almost exploded when they played "Army." Once in a lifetime show, and I'm so glad I got to see it.


I just wish they would have come back out and acknowledged the crowd after the show.

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About the blogger

David Menconi has been the News & Observer's music critic since 1991. Before that, he spent five years at the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colo. He has a masters in journalism from the University of Texas and a B.A. in English from Southwestern University. You can find more of his writing here.