Ben Folds Five “Draw A Crowd” At L.A.’s Wiltern: Concert Review

Erika Brooks Adickman | January 28, 2013 1:34 pm

So they wanted to take a break, slow it down some and have some space — but finally after 13 long years Ben Folds Five are together again. As a BFF fan for almost half of my life, there was zero chance I was missing the chance to see the trio perform live for the first time (and possibly the last). Apparently, I was not alone in the excitement — not since Justin Bieber‘s Believe show at the Staples Center had I seen so many people wearing an artist’s shirt to the actual concert. Expectations were high. I’m sure everyone entered the Wiltern Theatre with their own dream set list, fingers crossed that they would finally get to hear it live. 

When Ben Folds, Darren Jessee and Robert Sledge took the stage at 9 p.m. with a quick wave to the audience before barreling into The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind‘s “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later,” however, it was clear this wasn’t going to be the Ben Folds Five concert you might have missed in 1999. Even though the band followed that one up with “Jackson Cannery,” their opening track from their self-titled album, the set as a whole was far from a nostalgic retrospective.

During their 90 minutes on stage, the North Carolinan trio played a surprising seven tracks from their latest LP, occasionally teasing the crowd with an old up-tempo favorite like “Battle Of Who Could Care Less” or “Army” in between several back-to-back slower rarities.

I can’t tell if I was more surprised to hear their breakout single “Brick” — a song that, legend has it, they never played live — or to hear people cheering and doing the suburbanite-sway to a song about abortion. Even more surprising was the inclusion of a Ben Folds solo track; sleepy “Landed” was a puzzling choice as opposed to, say, “Not The Same,” (which name checks bassist Robert Sledge).

The guys did take one song request from a fan, though oddly it was the instrumental track “Theme From Dr. Pyser,” which few seemed familiar with. Similarly, instead of a better known covers Ben Folds Five have performed, the group went with “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down” and used part of their encore to slip into Liz Phair‘s “Chopsticks.” The banter and reminiscing between the guys was also few and far between, which was a shame — especially since hearing Ben chat to Robert about opening for Tears For Fears in the ’90s with “Underground” (during which time the bassist walked off stage because the audio mix was so bad) was priceless.

Broken-dream setlists aside (no “Best Imitation Of Myself” or “Kate” or “Julianne”), Robert and Darren’s harmonies were flawless. Ben’s music-geek jokes about scales and his improvising on the baby grand was a reminder that some things haven’t changed in over a decade. The best part: Ben Folds Five sounded as good as they did pumping through the cassette tape player of my car back in 1998.