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Pick of the Month November 2002

Ben Folds Live 
Artist: Ben Folds 
Label: Epic
Length: 17 tracks (71 minutes 17 seconds)

It seems as though Ben Folds has developed a strongly independent personality over the past few years.  First going solo, then mostly self producing (along with another guy named "Ben") and playing nearly every instrument on _Rockin' the Suburbs_, and now his live album.  The back photo tells the basic story here, just a stool and piano, and of course (pictured on the front cover holding up extended middle fingers) the crowd has a big part of the live experience as well.  This format is a bold one and I have to admit was a little bit difficult to swallow at first.  The songs are very different, stripped down to their more intimate essence, but come back with a distinct feel and new meaning.  An initial complaint can be that the songs lack coherency, coming randomly from numerous earlier recordings.  But this problem is solved through the prevailing mood of the album.  It fits perfectly in the setting of a cold New England stroll through the woods with maybe a bit of snow beginning to fall. 

The album starts off with the jazzy "one angry dwarf and 200 solemn faces" and "zak and sara."  These two start off forcing you to dismiss the way you know these songs.  They take on a more captivating form, but still manage to rock with Ben Folds' great piano ability.  The wistful "Silver Street" is a new song and shows off some "white boy soul" from Ben Folds.  Another new tune "One Down," the song about finishing up his recording contract, gives insight into the plights of Ben Folds as a hired songwriter.  "I'm really not complaining, I realize it's just a job, and I hate hearing bellyaching rock stars whine and sob.  Cause I could be bussing tables, I could well be pumping gas, but I get paid much finer for playing piano and kissing ass."

Of course for all of the posers, "Brick" is on the album. (Because as any true Ben Folds fan knows, this is his worst song) OK, I really actually do like this song.  It's different than any other Ben Folds song, and is beautiful and perfect in this personal arrangement.  The piano notes resonate and give you chill bumps.  This song transitions into a more upbeat second half of the album.  "Narcolepsy" allows the complex arrangements from the Reinhold Messner album to filter down beautifully into some creative piano playing.  This one is just unbelievable and proves Ben Folds' music genius!  The next track is preceded by the audience training to be the horn section for "Army."  This one shows off the great crowd participation of a Ben Folds concert.  The crowd comes through with a great saxophone and trumpet improvisation, and of course at the appropriate moment yells in the "aww shit!" 

The album contains some great covers as well. Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" gains some new life, and the inventive "Misirlou" provides a tag end to "Philosophy".  The penultimate "The Luckiest" is a beautiful love song with the line "Where was I before the day that I first saw your lovely face, now I see it everyday." This would have provided an excellent closing, but Ben Folds returns with the old song "Emaline".  This one feels a lot like the new "Silver Street".  A minor complaint here would be in wanting a slightly different track list. I would have liked to see "Song for the Dumped", maybe "Battle of Who Could Care Less", or my favorite BFF song "Underground". 

Ben Folds Live does a great job of producing the feel of being at a concert better than many recent live albums.  He brings back a style, almost classical in nature that is fresh and unknown to pop music of the past decade.  He's beginning to attain the status of the piano greats from past musical eras like Elton John and Billy Joel while retaining an original and imaginative personality truly his own.  A unique and captivating album. 

Matthew Kilgore 10/21/2002


 
 
 
 

 

   
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