Ben Folds Five - Robbie Fulks
Riviera Theatre - Chicago
February 15, 1998
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 1998, Volume 5, #4
Written by John Metzger
On February 15, Ben Folds Five returned to Chicago. When the band passed through town last October, it was unable to sell out the Vic Theater. But shortly after that performance, the group's single Brick became a huge hit, allowing it to sell out the Riviera — a theater that is twice the size of the Vic — well before the date of the show. Surprisingly, the audience was more attentive. They danced and sang along to every song and even obliged frontman Ben Folds as he literally went crazy on stage in an attempt to spite Jam Productions.
Jam's offshoot — Jam TV — had teamed up with Rolling Stone Online to cybercast the entire concert across the internet. Some bands might have taken this really seriously, but Folds refused to let it impact his performance. He and his band — drummer Darren Jessee and bassist Robert Sledge — have a penchant for spontaneously launching into rambling, but hysterical dialogues and short segments of other songs. After taking the stage with a series of jams, Folds led the band into a blistering Battle of Who Could Care Less, but this was merely a warm-up. Philosophy began with sweet piano introduction, which came across as a blend of Billy Joel's Angry Young Man and Summer Highland Falls, but by the end of the song, Folds had worked the band into a frenzy, eventually slamming his piano stool into his keyboard to draw the song to its conclusion.
Midway through the set, after a beautiful version of Brick, which featured Sledge bowing an upright bass, Folds cracked. The first indication came as he explained about the cybercast and introduced a song they had written that afternoon. The song had everyone laughing as Folds sang about how horrible the quality will be for those sitting at home trying to watch from their computers.
Kate brought Ben Folds Five back to more familiar music and carried a renewed intensity, riding the crest of Sledge's fuzzed-out bass. Jackson Cannery was the song that pushed the group completely over the edge. Jessee pounded out a powerful drum beat as Sledge blasted out a fuzzy splattering of notes, and Folds tore through the lyrics with a vengeance. Before the song could end, Folds grabbed a microphone and began banging and rubbing it against the strings of his piano creating a massive wall of sound. Without missing a beat, Folds chanted: "So you wanted to take a break. Slow it down some and have some space." As he screamed, "Well fuck you too!," the band segued nicely into Song for the Dumped with unabashed power and raging energy that poured over the audience like a shot of adrenalin. Midway through the song, Folds again began abusing his piano as Jessee pounded out a techno drum beat. Folds began screaming repeatedly, "Who's got the power?" before switching gears into a milder piano solo, which gave him a chance to play with his new effects pedal. Gradually, he led the band back into Song for the Dumped, which concluded as opening act Robbie Fulks' children took the stage to dance to a rap beat. Somehow the trio managed to settle down for a few minutes to soar through a beautiful rendition Missing the War — one of the prettiest songs on Whatever and Ever Amen. But the reprieve was short-lived as Folds tossed in Hava Nagila as an introduction to One Angry Dwarf and Two Hundred Solemn Faces.
The show concluded as Folds proclaimed that he was going to waste some time given that the concert was being broadcast through cyberspace. Sledge and Jessee launched into a noisy, feedback-filled groove as Folds approached the front of the stage, microphone in hand and repeatedly screamed, "I am a middle-aged, white guy. I have nothing to be pissed off about!"
As if this wasn't enough, Folds then explained that he was going to take off his shirt, which he did, and then prompted the audience to join him. It took a little bit of pushing from Folds, but soon a colorful barrage of shirts began flying through the air and onto the stage. After milking this for all he could, he proceeded grab his piano stool and climb to the top of a ten-foot high bank of speakers. He brought the entire concert to a raging conclusion as he threw the stool at the piano, jumped off the speakers, and then threw himself at the keys. It was a fitting end to an intensely silly, but satisfying performance.
Fellow North Carolinian Robbie Fulks opened the show with an outstanding blend of country-rock. Fulks concluded with an equally goofy performance of his song North Carolina is the Cigarette State. Before ending, Fulks and his band had tossed in small portions of the Rolling Stones' Satisfaction, Jimi Hendrix's And the Wind Cries Mary, Foxy Lady and Purple Haze, and even a little bit of Ben Folds Five, much to the delight of the audience.
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Copyright © 1998 The Music Box