Twelve years after Ben Folds Five split up under friendly terms, the trio reunited to record new songs and take them, and the rest of its catalog, out on the road. Friday night, in the crisp autumn air and under a clear sky and a full moon, that tour stopped at Starlight Theatre, drawing a crowd of 5,000 or so. They got an evening of manic pop songs and lambent ballads filled with sarcasm, humor, romance and wistful regret. And some nostalgia.
Even through the mediocre mix, the band stirred up a good mood lots of energy for nearly two hours. It also stirred up some nostalgia among a crowd that ranged from people in their late teens to forty-somethings and beyond.
The band is touring on that new album, “The Sound of the Life of the Mind.” The setlist included six of its 10 tracks, a couple of which stood out, like the rollicking: “Do It Anyway” and the lovely and melancholic “Sky High.”
The rest of the set went back to the band’s earliest days, and songs from its first, self-titled album, like “Alice Childress” and “Best Imitation of Myself.” Folds is backed by Robert Sledge, who plays electric and standup bass — or “double bass,” the preferred term, Folds told the crowd — and Darren Jessee on drums. They can lay down some flashy grooves that swing from rock to funk to jazz. And they can render some impressive three-part harmonies, too.
The crowd joined in on the singing several times, identifying with each song’s message or characters, many of whom reflect Folds’ nerdish quirkiness. The big moments were “Landed,” “Philosophy,” “Brick” and “Kate,” which aroused the loudest response of the night. Even during the closer, a sped-up version of “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces,” they sang along with Folds, who stood, stooped and hammered his piano as if he were playing congo drums. That one’s off the band’s breakthrough album, “Whatever and Ever Amen,” now 15 years old. .So was the one that preceded it, “Underground,” a song about the culture of misfits and outcasts and the bond that arises within, which was kind of the spirit of the whole show.
Setlist: Michael Praytor, Five Years Later; Missing the War; Hold That Thought; Jackson Cannery; Selfless, Cold and Composed; Erase Me; Alice Childress; Sky High; Landed; Magic; Battle of Who Could Care Less; Do It Anyway; Brick; Best Imitation of Myself; Draw a Crowd; Philosophy; Kate; Song for the Damned; Army.Encore: Underground; One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces.
| Timothy Finn, The Star