Album Review: Ben Folds Five – Live

By on Thursday, 6th June 2013 at 12:00 pm

Ben Folds Five Live coverHot on the heels of their recent world tour, Ben Folds Five have released ‘Live’, a compilation of live recordings from a selection of those shows. The band have been touring since last summer in support of their most recent studio album, ‘The Sound of the Life of the Mind’. From that album, the new live record includes performances of ‘Erase Me’, ‘Sky High’, ‘Do It Anyway’, and ‘Draw A Crowd’. The new songs sit comfortably among a mix of favorites from Ben Folds’ back catalogue, with and without the rest of the ‘Five’. (I assume it’s commonly known by now that Ben Folds Five is composed of three members: Ben Folds, Darren Jessee and Robert Sledge. If not, then you’re now in on the joke.)

Overall, the tracks on ‘Ben Folds Five Live’ are tight performances. The three musicians sound sharp and well-rehearsed, but they maintain the spontaneity and dynamism that can only happen when the songs are second-nature. Ben Folds’ singing voice sounds particularly crisp and energetic throughout the album. The sound quality on the recordings is amazingly good, and crowd noise amazingly minimal. Most of the selected tracks are fairly true to their studio recordings, so familiar fans won’t be alienated, but there is plenty of variety to keep things interesting.

Of course, the real fun of live performances is in the improvisatory moments, and here ‘Ben Folds Five Live’ doesn’t disappoint. ‘One Chord Blues / Billie’s Bounce’ is full track consisting of a spirited and profane 12-bar blues vamp in which Folds pokes fun at his own musical pedanticism. A 9-minute long version of ‘Narcolepsy’, recorded before an appreciative Japanese audience, highlights the inventive ad-libbing abilities of all three players.

Hit single ‘Brick’, a given on Folds’ live set list, is handled nicely here. Prominent bass gives the song more depth and movement than on the original recording, but otherwise its simple, poignant beauty is untouched. Wisely sandwiched in the track listing between a runaway train rendition of ‘Do It Anyway’ and the bawdy ‘Draw A Crowd’, ‘Brick’ mellows the up tempo mood of the album only for a brief moment.

The end of the album is set up almost like an encore, with band member intros, thank yous, and good nights preceding the final track, ‘Song for the Dumped’. By this point, I found myself rocking and dancing along as if I really were at a live gig. Indeed, the live shows must have been brilliant, particularly at The Warfield in San Francisco, where 5 of the 15 tracks on the album were recorded. I missed Ben Folds Five last time around, but after hearing ‘Ben Folds Five Live’, I’ll make it a point to catch them on tour this summer.


‘Live’, the new live album from Ben Folds Five, is out now on Sony. You can stream the whole album on the Wall Street Journal here. Ben Folds Five will join Barenaked Ladies and Guster on the ‘Last Summer On Earth’ tour of North America this summer.

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