I very vividly remember sitting at home on a Sunday night in 1996, during my senior year of high school and listening to WNEW while doing homework. At that point WNEW was still a rock station and Sunday nights were one of the few times that a freeform radio show played on a major commercial radio station. Vin Scelsa’s Idiot’s Delight show was a true old-school freeform radio show and always interesting, fun and often exciting to hear. Scelsa hosted an in-studio concert and interview with a young band from North Carolina promoting their first eponymous album on an indie label. That band was Ben Folds Five.
Of all of the artists that I’ve listened to in the course of my musical enjoyment, a very few stand out as ones that I both vividly remember hearing for the first time and continue to enjoy. And that radio appearance completely sold me on Ben Folds Five, because they were doing something unique and uniquely targeted to me: a piano trio playing a mix of pop music with solid melodies combined with a true punk energy and youthful collegiate humor.
I still love that first Ben Folds Five album. But after “Brick” became a massive hit and after I was underwhelmed by The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, they played a fairly low-energy set to headline Spring Fling at Tufts, they dropped off of my radar. And then most people’s radars, since the band broke up in 2000.
But when I heard about the band getting together for a reunion earlier this year, I went back into listening to the band, and remembered what it was that I appreciated about their music, and think that it’s still there. The piano pop punk rock works for me. And since their first reunion show would be in Hunter, NY, I decided to brave the hippies at Mountain Jam to see Ben Folds Five again.
And it was a great set, in large part because it was a set that was perfectly engineered for a reunion show. No new songs, just the hits and fan favorites.
Here’s Jackson Cannery from the Hunter show:
(And yes, if you carefully watch those videos captured from the webcast of the Mountain Jam show, you will see me in the audience.)
Ben Folds Five’s new album, The Sound of the Life of the Mind is a mixed bag. It is somewhat more mature than the first couple of Ben Folds Five records, but part of the appeal of those early records was their lack of maturity. This is not an album review, so I’m not going to go through the album in great detail, but the high points include the Nick Hornby penned lyrics to the title track and Draw a Crowd, as well as the video for the first single, which combines Folds and Fraggles: