One of the highlights of the Ben Folds Five reunion show Thursday night on the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill came during the band’s performance of its final single, “Army.” It’s the quintessential college-rock song in which the protagonist ponders leaving school. When Folds sang the line, “I thought about the Army — I dropped out and joined a band instead,” the packed house of college students and longtime followers let out a deafening roar of approval.
It was the inaugural event for Myspace’s new music series “Front to Back,” which showcases prominent artists performing a key album in its entirety. The Five performed its swan song, 1999’s The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, which was neither the band’s highest-charting disc (that was Whatever and Ever Amen, with its #6 Modern Rock hit “Brick”) nor its best reviewed. In retrospect, though, the loose concept album with musical debts to the Who and Joe Jackson was not only the most logical choice for the format but it also may be the band’s most enduring work.
From Darren Jesse’s clattering, Keith Moon-like drumming in “Narcolepsy” to Robert Sledge’s bowed bass and Folds’ jazz-crazed piano part at the end of “Hospital Song,” the three were always art-rockers disguised as pop stars. But after performing the album, the Five pulled out all the stops in a seven-song encore of earlier material culminating in the noisy, abrasive “Song for the Dumped,” which Folds capped off by smashing his piano stool into the keyboard.
Sitting front and center, fans Jeremy Cox, 25, and Kaylor Otwell, 23, had driven more than 500 miles, from Birmingham, Alabama, to see the historic reunion. “This album came out on my birthday in 1999 and I was going to see them but they but broke up,” said Cox. “I wasn’t going to miss this.”
“Don’t Change Your Plans”
“Your Redneck Past”
“Your Most Valuable Possession” (Featuring Dean Folds)
“Selfless, Cold and Composed”
“Battle of Who Could Care Less”
“Where’s Summer B?”
“Song for the Dumped”
• Ben Folds Five Reunion: “The Chemistry Is Back”
• Ben Folds Comes Clean on His Real (And Fake) Album Way To Normal
• Album Review: Ben Folds Five, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner (3.5 stars)