As a teenager, I was surrounded by friends who listened to music that I had little interest in. Most of them were into the whole Fat Wreck Chords punk stuff, which I always thought seemed a little silly. My friends were a bunch of suburban, middle-class white kids (like me) getting all angsty and rebellious shouting along to songs about political unrest. We all had nice homes with Nintendos and pools; what was there to complain about?
Instead, I invested my adolescent angst in the attention-deficient energy that fueled Ben Folds Five‘s ’90s music. The music was so catchy, quirky, and insightful. It was dorky and spastic. And as I got through my teens and into my twenties, I found more and more to love about it. But, like so many bands from the early ’90s, they disbanded all too soon.
Thirteen years later, Ben Folds Five are back together, touring to support their new album, The Sound of the Life of the Mind. At their recent, completely packed House of Blues show, I sat in the balcony and one of my old favorite bands became one of my new favorite bands all over again. Seeing Ben beat the hell out of the piano on classic tracks like “Song for the Dumped” and “Philosophy” reminded me of the fun, slightly obnoxious energy that drew me in long ago.
The set focused a fair amount on older material and Ben Folds Five even treated the crowd to an extended version of the seldom-played fan favorite “Narcolepsy.” During this track with its great swells of madness and fury, the band kept things tight, balancing the song on the edge of control and chaos. But by the end, chaos reigned as Folds forgot a couple of lyrics. That one stumble aside, his performance throughout the night was impeccable, and he dazzled the crowd with beautiful-yet-raucous piano solos and vocals that were at once lovey and harsh.
As good as it felt to be taken back in time by old favorites, the new songs were more thought-provoking. Sure, the new BFF doesn’t sound like the old BFF, but why should it? They aren’t the same people and neither am I. It would be embarrassing to sit and watch these guys try to recreate the days of their youth while I tried to relate to it like I once did. The youthful exuberance that once permeated the music is gone, but it’s been replaced with a bittersweet sound that only life can bring about.