I headed to New York for Game 3 of the ALDS (for you baseball fans, that's the game Raul Ibanez pinch hit for Alex Rodriguez in the bottom of the 9th inning and hit a game-tying home run, and then hit a game-winning home run in the 12th), and my friend asked if I would go see Ben Folds Five with him the night I arrived. I was always a take-or-leave guy with Ben Folds, but I thought it would be fun, especially since the show was at the newly renovated Capitol Theater in Portchester in Westchester County, which previously most notably served as the spot Bob Dylan used as his rehearsal venue before going on tour (fittingly, he played the first show there when it re-opened in August; the NY Times did an article about the place).
First, the theater. It is an ideal venue for a show. Beautiful, great sound, and although the main floor is general admission (no seats), the balcony, which hangs close to the stage, has reserved seats (see photo for view) and great sight lines.
On to Ben Folds Five. This is a reunion tour for the band, as Folds has played solo (with a backing band) the last 15 years. Ben Folds Five (which, contrary to the band name, has three guys: piano, bass and drums) is one of those acts that is impossible to describe through comparison to other artists. The band's sound is unique, taking elements of pop (but with slightly off-kilter melodies), jazz (but more accessible) and rock (the bass player employs an Entwistle-like approach, with distorted sound and active lines that fill the space normally occupied by an electric guitar), all with slice-of-life, quirky lyrics that often go for a laugh, sung by Folds's expressive, higher register voice. The songs range from angsty, dark slow-tempo meditations like "Brick" (great song, not a highlight at the show, though, as Folds had trouble with some of the extreme high notes in the chorus), to mid-tempo rock songs that play like slightly-off 70s California rock songs (like "Landed," which was a highlight of the live show), to louder, faster burners like "Draw a Crowd" from the band's latest album (my favorite song of the night) and the strong show opener, "Michael Praytor, Five Years Later."
The band is a vibrant presence on stage. Folds stands at the piano on the faster songs, and the whole band plays with an urgency that energizes the crowd. Folds is funny, in a nerdy way, in his between-songs banter. And the band's harmonies were surprisingly strong. I liked every song on the night except the experimental, weird and dissonant "Narcolepsy," which was the only hiccup in a five-song finish of fast-tempo songs that really rocked the end of the set.
(The whole set list is available here.)