One Angry Dwarf

Ben Folds Five - Kim Fox - Verbow

Vic Theatre - Chicago

October 30, 1997

First Appeared in The Music Box, December 1997, Volume 4, #13

Written by John Metzger


On October 30, Ben Folds Five returned to Chicago for its first performance since disembarking from the H.O.R.D.E. tour. This time around, the band came close to selling out the Vic Theatre, having gained popularity through frequent airplay on local radio station Q-101. The problem? Many people only knew the songs that were played on the radio and chose to talk through the remainder of the concert.

Too bad. The trio featuring Ben Folds on piano, Robert Sledge on bass, and Darren Jessee on drums put on a rousing performance with a wide range of intensity and emotion. As if he knew he would lose some of the audience's attention, Folds opened the show with Battle of Who Could Care Less, and sang: "Do you not hear me anymore? I know it's not your thing to care. I know it's cool to be so bored."

Despite the fact that Ben Folds Five lacks a guitar player, the band packs all the punch of power trios like Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. At times in mid-solo, Folds resorts to a variety of stage antics, much like Hendrix would. Often, the result is similar a stinging statement is unleashed upon the crowd.  To conclude Philosophy, for example, Folds tossed his piano stool at the keyboards, blasting out a splattering of notes that provided a perfect ending. During Song for the Dumped, as Folds re-sang the line, "Slow it down some and have some space," the band switched gears into a space-filled, feedback-laden segment during which Folds pounded on the keyboard while rubbing the microphone across the strings inside the piano. The effect was eerie, yet captured the frightening amount of anger that is contained in his often happy-sounding melodies.

There is a Phish-like insanity to some of Folds' songs, which adds an hilarious element to the show. For example, during Julianne, Folds sang, "I met a girl. She looked like Axl Rose." In addition, to conclude the set, Sledge clapped his hands above his head while singing, "I wanna be a disco diva," before the group dove into Underground. The trio even performed The Flaming Lips' She Don't Use Jelly.

But it's not all silliness and stage antics. There's a serious side as well, and this is when Ben Folds Five is at its best. The group was brilliant on a sparkling rendition of Missing the War. This song has a melody and vocal harmonies reminiscent of The Beach Boys, and the group pulled it off with the perfection of its recorded counterpart on Whatever and Ever Amen.

Equally strong was Brick, a dark and depressing tune that Folds delivered with the emotional pounding of a freight train. It was musically flawless as well, and the group captured the ambience of Todd Rundgren's 1972 masterpiece Something/Anything?

Opening the show was Kim Fox from Bloomington, Indiana and Chicago's own Verbow. Fox and her group put on a great performance of material that perfectly complimented Ben Folds Five's set. Verbow's set was also quite enjoyable, and the group's harder, guitar-based edge delightfully separated the outings from Fox and Folds.

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Copyright 1997 The Music Box