Being only a casual fan of Ben Folds over the years put me in an incredibly small demographic of the folks attending the last show of Ben Folds Five's U.S. tour here in Portland on a Tuesday night. Of the 1‚200 or so in attendance‚ it seemed that for at least 90% of them this was their favorite band. For an enthusiastic music geek like me‚ this was perfect. It had that same feeling of going to church on Christmas Eve -- the energy of everyone in the room is so palpable that you can't help but brandish a big smile and mouth along the words to the Lord's Prayer like you've been saying it all your life‚ or in this case the words to "Brick."
Right away‚ several things stood out. One was that there wasn't a single contact lens in the house‚ let alone any recipients of lasic eye surgery. I guess when your musical hero is well known for his square-frames‚ then you take great pride as well in your own diminished ocular abilities. I know we're talking about the hipster capital of the world here people‚ but I'm just saying -- shit load of glasses in this crowd. The other predominant aspect of the night is that the entire audience thought of Ben Folds as one of their best friends. He does an incredible job of staying in the moment throughout the show; joking with the fans‚ his bandmates‚ and himself‚ and thus you can't help but feel like you're watching an old pal from elementary school take the stage.
Now despite BF5 being well-renowned for their somewhat gentler take on pop-rock‚ there's no doubt this is a rock band. Bassist Robert Sledge was playing with all the pent up ferocity he's been waiting to blow off while lounging around Chapel Hill for the past decade. As drummer Darren Jessee has had a fair deal of success post Folds with his own band Hotel Lights‚ Sledge was probably the most stoked to get the reunion phone call last year. And damn well he should be -- the man is a beast on the bass‚ and a talent worthy of more than the rock Gods have neglected to bestow upon him during the band's 12 year hiatus. But hiatus be damned‚ this askew power trio held a pocket together that felt like they hadn't even noticed the Bush years pass them by. Their vocal harmonies were downright angelic‚ and the fellas anticipated Folds' improvised changes in "Rock This Bitch" like they were of one hive mind.
Folds himself is truly a sight to behold. Playing half of the songs standing up at the piano‚ he's developed this unique lunge-stance that keeps his back straight and that must have made Jerry Lee Lewis scream "Of Course!" when he first saw it. At one point Ben snapped the low G string on his piano. Have you ever seen those low piano strings? It's about a quarter inch of coiled steel. The power you need to hit a piano key with to snap one of those is even more impressive than a juiced up baseball player breaking a bat over his knee. Regardless of his pinky strength‚ the real power in the man lies in his ability to write some amazing songs. And like any true performer would‚ he left the top four heaviest hitters for the end of the show. Closing the set with "Song for the Dumped" and "Army‚" then encoring with "Underground" and "One Angry Dwarf + 200 Solemn Faces" equaled 20 solid minutes of ecstatic joy in the room. Capping it off with a 20-foot stool throw to the piano‚ this reviewer walked out thoroughly impressed amongst a sea of 1‚200 that just had the night of their lives.