10K1 - Ben Folds
Iowa City, IA, IMU Main Ballroom
May 2, 2004
"Singer/pianist Ben Folds is best-known as the leader of the power pop trio Ben Folds Five, but has also struck out on his own as a solo artist.
Despite playing in bands in high school, his musical career didn't really get off the ground until the late '80s, as a bassist for Majsha. Proving his multi-instrumental talents, Folds also played drums as a session musician in Nashville. After relocating to New York, Folds started acting again (he'd done some theater in high school previously), and signed a publishing deal with Sony Music.
Moving back to North Carolina, Folds formed Ben Folds Five in 1994. Whereas most alternative bands of the '90s specialized in distorted teen-angst rock, the guitarless trio was a refreshing break from the norm. In addition to Folds, the trio also included bassist Robert Sledge and drummer Darren Jesse, as their sound was more a kin to such past power popsters as Todd Rundgren, Jellyfish, early Joe Jackson, and such piano-driven artists as Billy Joel and early Elton John.
But like punk bands, Ben Folds Five put on a high energy, blistering live show -- which has turned them into a must-see live act. The band was signed to the independent Caroline Records shortly afterward, resulting in their self-titled debut one year later. Due to airings of their humorous anthem, "Underground" (which poked fun at the politics of the punk/alternative scene) on MTV's 120 Minutes and constant touring, quite a buzz was stirring for the band by the time of their second album -- which was issued through Epic.
Released in 1997, Whatever and Ever Amen was pure pop perfection -- easily one of the year's best releases (and perhaps the best power pop release of the '90s). The band's songwriting and sound had improved even further, as evidenced by such gems as "One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces," "Fair," "Kate," and "Battle of Who Could Care Less," plus their whimsical tribute to breakups, "Song for the Dumped."
But it was the ballad "Brick" that broke the band commercially -- unlike the majority of their material that was upbeat, the song contained melancholic music and vocals, as the lyrics told the story of a teenaged couple who decides to get an abortion (it has been speculated that the tale was autobiographical for Folds). The single didn't hit until several months after the album was released, which meant that the band stayed on the road for well over a year, playing with such notables as Dave Matthews, Beck, and as part of the H.O.R.D.E. 1997 festival -- earning Whatever platinum status.
While 1998 didn't see a new studio album by the band, BF5's former label issued a 16-track rarities collection (Naked Baby Photos), as Folds released his first solo album, Volume 1, under the pseudonym Fear of Pop. Although the album went largely unnoticed, it included the song "In Love," which included overly dramatic vocals from none other than Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner (comparable in approach to Shatner's must-hear 1968 album, Transformed Man) -- which was performed on the Conan O'Brien show shortly after the album's release. Ben Folds Five regrouped with 1999' s The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, which was a more mature work than its predecessors, although the energetic lead-off single, "Army," showed that Folds' humorous approach hadn't dulled at all." -- Greg Prato, All Music Guide