Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ben Folds Five at Central Park 09.14.12

Let there be no doubt in your mind; Ben Folds Five are back and better than ever. Their new album, The Sound of the Life of the Mind, was officially released today. Fans that pledged the band were given a digital copy last Wednesday. I was thrilled to be able to digest the new music before the concert; it's so much harder to enjoy a show when you don't know the songs. The way I listen to music is slightly different than most. I like to hear an album in its entirety and will avoid single song previews. Artists work hard to create a flow between the songs and spoilers ruin that in my mind.

The new album is wonderful. I'm still in awe that this reunion has actually happened. How many bands come back together after 12 years and release their best work to date? Could you imagine if the Beatles had that opportunity? Ben Folds has had a successful solo career since the break up and Darren Jessee's band Hotel Lights have built a respectful following. (My regular readers are well aware of my support there, but in case this is your first time visiting, check out the Hotel Lights CD release party last year here and their show from April of this year here.) I feel like Ben Folds Five needed that time to develop musically and grow as artists. The result is an album full of confidence and cohesiveness. It's one of those albums that you can listen to over and over and find new subtle moments to enjoy. The harmonies are so much stronger than their earlier work, to which I give credit to Darren for finding his own voice as band leader.

Now on to the concert!

When the band announced a show in September, I was in no matter what. I don't tend to enjoy outdoor concerts mostly because there is a high chance of getting not just a bad spot, but a horrible spot. While the sound was good, Central Park is not going to rank up there as far as the venue is concerned. I was dozens of fans back with practically no line of sight. There is no chance for you to seek higher ground, unless you paid extra for the bleacher seats. (Which you don't want to do because then you're even FARTHER away from the stage.) My biggest issue with this concert, and it was in no way the bands fault, is how the ticket pricing was handled. General admission was already at the higher end of my price range. If you wanted the chance of getting closer to the stage, you could pay for a more expensive ticket and would be let in I believe an hour earlier. I'm sorry, but that's not general admission in my mind. I wasn't really that upset about it, as I said, I was willing to see Ben Folds Five regardless.

What it meant for me was that to get any clear shots, I had to Hail Mary my camera. I don't like to extend my camera above my head as it distracts other fans, so I didn't take a lot of pictures and there isn't much variety. Still, I think they convey the energy of the concert, which was incredible, by the way. The crowd was mostly people my age, but every so often I caught a glimpse of an older couple or a group of teens. I gave advice to a couple of teenage friends to slowly make their way to the crowd. They were so excited to be at the show and explained that they grew up with their parents listening to Ben Folds Five.

Ben telling a story about a piano stool mishap.

It was great to see the band laughing and joking throughout the night. Even when Ben repeated a verse in the opening song, Michael Praytor, they kept on going. Darren and Robert gave him a sideways glance, Ben shrugged and smiled and just sang it over again. It felt like they'd been playing together all along, not one of their first headlining shows after 12 years apart.

While Ben added distortion to his baby grand piano, he asked for the crowd to entertain them. The crowd responded by singing Happy Birthday to him; Folds' birthday was two days earlier. Ben looked genuinely touched and Darren and Robert joined in at the end. Ben noted that we were singing along in C#, and only hip crowds sang in C#.

Sky High, the third track off the new album, was written by Jessee and sung by Folds. It contains some of his best imagery to date; Darren has a way of describing details that is truly unique. If you haven't gotten a hold of his Hotel Lights work, I once again implore you to. I love the above shot taken during the live performance of Sky High. Robert busted out his stand up bass and Darren and Ben harmonized beautifully. I wrote down in my notes that a lovely breeze kicked up during this song, making it that much more surreal. It was, thankfully, a perfect early fall evening. No heat or humidity, but not too cold to keep you from wearing a t-shirt and jeans.

I was trying to capture the "whatever" hands by the audience during The Battle of Who Could Care Less. The people on the left have it down! This shot gives you a better idea of how far back I was.

Before they played Do It Anyway, which you can see the awesome music video for here, Ben once again talked about C#. He asked if any of us preferred to call it D flat, to which there were some applause and boos. Folds chuckled saying there was going to be a throw down later in the parking lot. He went on to explain the chord progression of the song. I will listen to Ben Folds talk music theory all night long. It was just like his judging on the Sing Off.

The band stopped playing during Army when the crowd took over the vocals without instruction. Ben usually gives a music lesson during his solo concerts, but this seasoned Ben Folds Five audience only needed the part to come up. I have to say, the crowd helped make this concert for me. Everyone was singing and bouncing along to the music. I hope the guys in the band were able to appreciate it as well.

Robert's first bass solo during Song for the Dumped where he disconnects his bass amp and presses it against his hand. There was a little snafu, where Ben accidentally cut off Robert's solo. The band continued without missing a beat and after his solo, Folds sang an apology to Sledge. It was hilarious and showed just how in tune these guys are with each other.

Ben trying on the t-shirt a fan threw on stage during Song for the Dumped.

There was a brief break before the encore. The guys really rocked out on Underground.

Even though there are a lot of hands in this shot, I don't care, the smile on Darren's face is priceless. I've never seen all three of them laughing and smiling so much. It just shows how much fun they're having.

By the time they got to One Angry Dwarf, the crowd has a bundle of energy, hands in the air and shouting along. It was the final song of the hour and 45 minute set. You could really feel the tension building. I can honestly say the concert flew by. The band was solid and despite the less than ideal viewing conditions, I had a blast. It's gotten very hard for me to attend a concert as just a fan, without my real camera. I'm hoping that I can get another shot at that illusive press pass for their concert in October at the newly renovated Capitol Theatre.

Set List:
• Michael Praytor, Five Years Later
• Theme to Dr. Pyser
• Jackson Cannery
• Selfless, Cold and Composed
• Erase Me
• Uncle Walter
• Alice Childress
• Sky High
• The Battle of Who Could Care Less
• Mess
• The Sound of the Life of the Mind
• Emaline
• Do It Anyway
• Brick
• Philosophy
• Army
• Song for the Dumped
• Underground
• One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces

The focus on my parting shot is pretty soft but I still got it, even with a point and shoot: Ben's piano stool mid toss.

Welcome back, Ben Folds Five! See you in October!

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