Released: October 8, 2002
The only song that I knew by the band Ben Folds Five was "Brick". When I acquired this album, it was because I liked that song and I thought maybe there would be some more that I could like, too. Of course, he ditched the other folks that had made up the five, so on this he's just Ben Folds. I don't know the story of where they went, and I'm sure I'll find out from Wikipedia, at some point.
A man and a piano. And an audience, or two, or three. I still like "Brick", and it doesn't really sound any different on this live album than I remember it sounding when I heard it on the radio. Nowadays, when it pops up on shuffle, or I've put it on my singable songs playlist, I think of riding around in my mom's car on visits to Idaho. Maybe it was only one visit, hardly matters. In my memory, there are four of us in the car--Dana, Paige, my mom and me. We're listening to the radio station out of Sun Valley with it's mix between commercial "alternative" music and a smattering of not so commercial bands, like Built to Spill and Death Cab. (This is before Death Cab was playing Key Arena and huge amphitheatres, and still playing places like the Showbox...) Anyway, in this memory, it is also wintry outside. We're probably driving Paige to a school activity, or something. I like this memory. Even if it's not exactly accurate. I'll take it. The other thing I like about this song is that I think Folds has done an admirable job capturing an experience that I haven't had, and giving it emotion, texture. It's so grey. It brings to mind grey weather, grey washes over the song right down to the nature of the actions taken in the song. Nothing is clear or easy or finite. It's all grey... (Of course, the Pitchfork review had a good negative point about this song, which was that the high school girlfriend who he'd gotten pregnant and had the abortion probably doesn't appreciate being immortalized as a "brick"... touche and now I feel kinda bad for liking the song. Except that I'd had another interpretation of the term. That she was a lot tougher than he was. Laugh at my naivete if you wish...)
I could be happy to only ever listen to this song on the album, except that it's kind of fun, in general. It's pop. Good 'ole, sing-a-long pop. I read on iTunes that that particular reviewer didn't feel that this album added anything to any of the songs recorded in the studio. Rather, he missed the rhythm section and the harmonies that Folds created with additional band mates. Well, not having ever heard any of those, this one works for me. I don't feel a need to buy anymore Folds, solo or otherwise, as Ben Folds Live is plenty of Folds for me. This live album definitely showcases a talented pianist with a decent singing voice and acceptable lyricist. I can't help but picture frat boys and sorority girls fawning over him, though. Some of his songs possess a youthful exuberance that are a little too collegiate for me to really cross the threshold between good and great. (I'm not sure what I mean by that, but it makes sense somewhere in my critical brain.) Friends climbing up trees while tripping on acid and finding god. Buddies who can't let college go once they've gone, (we all know someone like that, sigh... and I like that song, too, "Silver Street", it's called.) Unwanted teen pregnancy. Dude, I love yous. I'm oversimplifying to make a point. He never says "Dude, I love you." But I wouldn't be surprised if he had in "The Luckiest", my least favorite song on the album. It's just too cheesy--perfect for the overly ernest youth falling in love--maybe he is trying to capture that? Hard to say. Well, at least he's more amusing than schmaltzy.
"Tiny Dancer" is a great cover, though. I will give him that. He does nothing to it but sing it and sing it straight. Yeah, yeah, yeah... after Almost Famous it was hard to ever hear that song, again. But it's nice to hear a sweet version. Suits him well.
Well, my loyal readership... I'm headed to Idaho, tomorrow. This means that I'll be taking a little break from my project. Sorry. I know you are all VERY disappointed. But since two or three of the five people that read this are going to be enjoying my company, I think I'll be forgiven. Take this opportunity to explore your own cd/record/tape/iTunes collection.