When MySpace asked Ben Folds to be the first performer in the site's new "Front to Back" series, they wanted him to play The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, the final album from his defunct band Ben Folds Five. Folds didn't feel right doing it alone, so he called up drummer Darren Jessee and bassist Robert Sledge and strung together the first Ben Folds Five performance in eight years, which will happen tonight in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. When Folds and his former bandmates sat down to play together again, Folds says it all clicked — so well, in fact, that he expects tonight's show to rival those of the band's heyday. "Once we had a hit and were playing bigger places, I'm not sure that we weren't trying a little too hard and overplaying, so it was nice to hear that the initial chemistry that had been there when we first started was back," he said. "People remember things with rose-colored glasses. They're going to remember that the band played perfectly, when in fact I don't think that we ever came close. What we did in rehearsal yesterday, to me, smoked what we were doing live then."
Though Folds has been playing Messner songs in his solo shows, putting them back together with the original band has taken considerable work. "There's a part in 'Don't Change Your Plans' where the piano's doing this run, and meanwhile there's three harmonies going on," he said. "Those harmonies would be hard to do even if you were just sitting with nothing else to do. We got to that part and said, 'Holy shit,' and we got out the iPod and listened over and over again to try to figure out what it was we were doing."
Reinhold Messner is the only guarantee for the show, but Folds says if the mood strikes, the band could dig out a few of the other songs it has been jamming on — he just won't say which ones. "We'll see in the moment," he said. "I don't think anyone likes to play a show without any backup at all. 'Sorry, goodnight, that's all we know!' It's nothing totally obscure, I can say that. We considered learning some really obscure stuff, and we realized those songs were obscure for a good reason."
As excited as Folds is to play with his old friends again, tonight's one-off show shouldn't be seen as a harbinger of a full resurrection of Ben Folds Five. "I kind of doubt it," he said of future collaborations. "If something natural comes along againâ€¦but I'm booked up for the next three years. Darren just put a new record out, and Robert's got a new baby. I don't think anybody's rushing to do that."