I was asked what was my favorite concert to shoot in a Google Hangout interview with fellow Gotye fans Regen and Mary. Without hesitation, I answered Ben Folds Five. Don't get me wrong, my experiences with Gotye were amazing, but Ben Folds Five was special to me in another way. The last time I saw this band perform, I was 18 years old. They broke up shortly after the release of their third studio album, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner. I was thrilled when they announced 14 years later that they were getting back together to release a new album. I was flat out determined to cover one of their shows.
What followed was the most work leg work I'd ever put forth to shoot a concert. It made the end result that much more meaningful for me. I contacted all the people from start to finish: from pitching the assignment to my editor, to emailing the venue and all the subsequent people I had to email and call as follow ups until I was speaking to the right person. I actually didn't get approved to shoot until the afternoon of the concert. I still remember posting status updates to my friends and their celebration when I announced I'd been given the go ahead.
A few details of the absolutely beautiful Capitol Theatre. It's full of Art Deco details: archways, guilded sculptures on the walls and ceilings and an amazing state of the art light projection system. During the concert, different patterns are placed on the back walls and ceiling. It's quite a sight. The Cap is just as impressive as The Beacon Theatre in NYC, but much closer to me. Located in Port Chester, NY, just over the Connecticut border, it's only a 40 minute drive. No expensive trip into the city to see a quality show, no waiting for trains!
There are two levels: the ground is usually general admission with a section for standing and a few rows of chairs set up in the back that are first come first serve. There's also a balcony with plush seats and a great view. I purchased a ticket for this show because I wasn't certain of my status of shooting it. I was front row, center in the balcony and it was awesome.
Seeing Ben Folds Five perform at the University of Rhode Island back in 1999 was one of those formative concerts for me. I was so excited to see one of my favorite bands play at my school. I took it all in, eyes wide with awe. My concert experiences up to that point had mostly been Jimmy Buffett shows, where I'd be standing on the lawn, far from the stage because that was all I could afford. At URI, I was so close to the stage. There was so much fun banter between the band. Robert Sledge was so freakin cool; he stood on top of the monitors as he belted out solos, he smoked a cigarette on stage, he just rocked. The guys played a lot of songs off the yet to be released Messner, but I of course already knew one song because I had a copy of Darren Jessee's demo off of The Garden Place. Back then, it was called The Magic That Holds The Sky Up From The Ground. It was an amazing concert.
Now, I was back in front of one of my favorite bands with my camera. It was incredible. Sure, I'd covered Ben Folds solo and Hotel Lights twice each, and this was only a couple weeks after the Gotye craziness in September, but it was different. I was more confident and I felt like I deserved to be there. And boy, did I have to think on the fly quite a bit! The Cap has one of the smallest photo pits I've ever seen. I've since nicknamed the venue The Knee Capper because I slammed my right knee into a monitor so hard, it brought tears to my eyes. (I'm not quite sure how I managed to withhold the swear I wanted to shout.) The Cap, which has a beautiful light set up for really cool projections, does not light the performers all that well. The fog machine that turned on in the second song which caused me to do something I've never done before in my life: lower my camera and wait it out. All of this seems moot to me now because I've since shot under far worse conditions, but at the time, it was a challenge. That being said, I am thrilled with these pictures and FINALLY being able to share them with you makes me ridiculously happy.
I set up on the left side of the stage in front of Robert Sledge. I thought it would give me the best chance at getting a group shot. I was so close I was practically on the stage with the band, which isn't always a good thing. There were so many monitors and Ben's piano to work around. I remember changing lenses a lot very quickly to capture what I could.
Robert is still the life of the band on stage. His banter and sense of humor crack me up. I'm always disappointed when photographers focus on the front man and leave out the "other" guys. As I said, I'd covered Ben and Darren, but never Robert, so it was an easy choice for me to pick his side of the stage.
It was really fun to see Darren on drums again. He seemed comfortable back there and I caught him smiling more than a few times.
I can only assume that Ben is looking at the light projections I mentioned earlier.
Playing with the harsh lighting behind Robert to give me some fun flare.
The classic glasses push. You can also see just how hard Ben plays piano by all the band aids on his finger tips.
The second song was Missing the War, which was different from their September concert in Central Park. I thought of all the times I'd watched the Sessions at West 54th DVD of this song and couldn't believe I was photographing it.
You can see the remnants of the fog in this shot. It felt like it lingered on stage forever. Fog is rough because when it's that thick, the camera will actually focus on it instead of the performers.
And this is the effect they were going for with all that fog: nifty light trails. Yeah, it's cool and all, but for Pete's Sake, do it after my allotted three songs that I get to shoot!
It's so tough finding a good angle on piano/keyboard players. While I wanted to get good shots of Ben's face, there's a tendency to get the "Floating Head" shot. Everyone in the pit was unhappy with their angles, so after the second song, there was a massive shift. Right and left side photographers completely swapped.
Now I can't say for certain what that look is about, but I'm pretty sure that's Darren recognizing me. I must have been in his blind spot on the other side of the stage. I didn't notice this as I was shooting, but it cracked me up when I processed the pictures. Hey, Darren!
Being able to capture some side shots of Ben at the piano really helped. I tend to plan my angles ahead of time for the bands that I cover and pick the one spot where I think I can get all my shots. This concert definitely taught me that moving is a good thing.
Tried another full band shot from this vantage point as well.
I absolutely loved this angle and took a ton of pictures from this spot. You get just enough of Darren in the background and can tell what instruments they're playing. A lot of times I tend to zoom too much and lose that.
This was my personal favorite of the night. Ben belting out a high note and Darren backing him.
With a final crack of his fingers, my three songs were over and I was out of the pit.
I took my seat in the balcony after shooting and was able to enjoy a great set. I couldn't help but sneak a few more pictures here and there. It was so much easier to capture full band shots from above. I love the composition of this one with Robert standing at the synths.
There were so many great moments of connection between Ben and Darren. Happy that I caught the little smile there.
The guys were so relaxed with each other; it was clear they were having a great time making music together. During Army, I watched as Darren attempted a drum stick flip. He slammed the stick on his snare then let go. The stick flew well out of reach, across the stage. When Ben stood up to conduct the audience, he retrieved the drum stick and used it as a baton. Folds returned to his piano then tossed the stick, over his shoulder back to Jessee.
He even had to transfer his drum stick to his other hand. Nice catch, D!
Ben taking a picture of the crowd at the end of the show.
Once the adrenaline from shooting wore off, I relaxed and had a great time enjoying the music. Sure, there were little slip ups here and there, but the guys handled it all in stride. There were zealous cheers from the audience as Ben set up his piano distortion for Sky High, there were running gags with the crowd about accents, Robert pointed out that he wore his "sexy shirt" for the ladies that night. At one point, when the guys were playing Narcolepsy, I watched in awe as I recalled that first concert so many years ago. I was transported back to my teenage self, to that time in my life spent at URI and how much has changed since then. That's what I love most about music: how it can take you back in time just by listening to the chords.
The irony of posting these pictures, a concert I was determined to shoot and succeeded, directly after posting my pictures of the Eels, two concerts where I was even more determined yet failed, is not lost on me. It makes me that much more proud of being able to shoot this show. Hopefully, I won't have to wait another 14 years to do it again.
• Michael Praytor, Five Years Later
• Missing the War
• Hold That Thought
• Jackson Cannery
• Selfless, Cold and Composed
• Erase Me
• Alice Childress
• Sky High
• Thank You for Breaking my Heart
• Battle of Who Could Care Less
• Do It Anyway
• Draw a Crowd
• Song for the Dumped
Another highlight of the night for me was meeting another photographer. Unlike the utter terror I felt at previous big shoots, I felt incredibly comfortable talking to the other photographers this night. Joe Madonna contributes to a blog called Bands that Jam. Check out his Ben Folds Five pictures and review here. He also works at the box office at The Cap, so make sure you say hi to him when you go.
If you want to go back and look at my Ben Folds solo pictures, they are on the gallery of my website. I shot both of those before I had a blog. Eventually, all the concerts I shoot go up there, so click and click often.
As always, I end with the shoes.