Friday, September 26, 2008

I Met Ben Folds in a Pizza Parlor!

It's been a week since my epic trip to Chapel Hill, North Carolina to see Ben Folds Five's one-off reunion. It's taken me about that long to recover from pure ultimation of that trip, not to mention the brutal 40 hours spent in transit to and from there. Northwest corner of the continent to the southeast-- what was I thinking? Basically when I got to my hotel room, I walked in the door and crashed for a couple hours. When I came to, it was time to go! I headed to downtown Chapel Hill to meet-up with a bunch of random fans from the message boards at for a pre-show meal at Pepper's Pizza, chosen for its central location and because its decor consists of paintings of local musicians including one Mr. Folds.

I got there about 10 minutes early and was told no one else had arrived ("You're with the reservation for twenty?"), so the server plopped me down at the bar. Alternating between watching the front door, the TV, and my watch, suddenly I did a double take when I noticed BEN FOLDS was dining in a nearby booth with his wife and parents! He was facing me and for a brief second he must have seen my eyes pop out 2 inches out of my skull. I casually turned back to the bar, mentally freaking out and stealing furtive glances back at his table. Eventually I found out from a different server that a corner table was occupied by some of the people I was supposed to be meeting, so I hopped over to introduce myself, though they seemed to be slightly preoccupied by BEN FOLDS EATING IN A BOOTH OVER THERE. Soon he finished up and got up to go, quickly followed by a quarter of the restaurant. I don't think I would have had the nerve to say anything to him other than a smile and a nod, but when this mini-mob formed I jumped at the opportunity to meet a musical hero. Ben was friendly and gracious, taking the time to signing things, chat, and pose for photos. Then when he was done, the rest of our group showed up... he chatted for a few more minutes then bid adieu, leaving us all chattering excitedly about what just occurred. The bulk of our group were Americans who had travelled from out of state, though there were a few from the UK and one Canuck (me). We would later meet-up with another hardcore fan who had travelled from Japan! And I thought I had a long trip.

The show kicked off with a set from Hotel Lights, a two-man band headed by Darren Jessee. Unfortunately, the crowd was made up of mostly UNC students chatting LOUDLY throughout his whole set and walking in/out of the auditorium. Ironically, they only shut up between songs, then continued right back up talking when he started each song. Kinda sad, though honestly it wasn't a very good venue for his wistful acoustic songs. The highlight of his set was Amelia Bright, an unreleased Ben Folds Five tune, which he dedicated to Ben and Robert. After his set, Darren walked off to cheers, as we prepared ourselves for his return... as the drummer of Ben Folds Five for the first time in nearly 10 years. [note: they were confiscating cameras left and right so I have no shots from the show itself, which was fine since it's wonderful to just soak in the experience rather than worry about taking pictures!]

Soon the house lights dimmed for the main event and the crowd went nuts. And out walked Darren! Ben! Robert! Together again performing The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner front to back! I'll run out of superlatives real fast attempting to describe the show, but I was in a state of Full Body Tingles for the whole night. As someone who's listened to these tracks countless times and knows them inside-out, it's exhilarating to hear them live and notice the little differences or wonder how they're going to pull of a particular moment. Every song was magic in their own way, but Magic was absolutely breathtaking with the crowd rapt in silent awe. The original Don't Change Your Plans was the first track on the album to feature horns and sure enough, on cue out walked a horn section presumably made up of UNC students. They reappeared for Army, the album's one semi-hit, which received the loudest reception and crowd sing-along. It was refreshing to hear actual horns and Robert's original fuzzy bass, both missing in Ben's solo gigs where the horn sections are sung by the crowd. Your Most Valuable Possession, probably never performed live, featured Ben's dad Dean re-enacting a bizarre early morning phone message he once left on Ben's machine while half-asleep. Ben hilariously forgot the lyrics in the middle of Regrets. "So many regrets..." he sung as he shook his head just before the booming end of the song. The set finished off with Lullabye, a bittersweet ending with Ben singing "Goodnight, goodnight". They left to a deafening ovation and the excitement was through the roof because here's where we entered the unknown portion of the program.

The encore started off with Jackson Cannery, one of my faves and the band's very first single (I think). Next was Eddie Walker, the b-side to that single. The lyrics "Eddie Walker, this is your life" seemed to fit the occasion since the hometown crowd was peppered with family members, old friends, former colleagues, and ex-bandmates. Next came two from Whatever and Ever Amen: Selfless, Cold and Composed and Battle of Who Could Care Less, the lyrics from which the album's title comes from (prompting knowing fans to hold up their hands in a "W"). Ben prefaced the next song by telling a story about them recording their debut album, which was deemed terrible and re-recorded with a new producer. "That's vaulted, you'll never hear it," he teased before launching into Julianne. The band finished off with an old favourite Song for the Dumped before leaving to an even more thunderous ovation, which lasted for a good 10 minutes through the "go home" music and house lights going up before turning to chants and eventually boos as the roadies came out. Always leave 'em wanting more. The show is due to be broadcast on mySpace sometime in October and hopefully (please!) a DVD will come out. Surely it's too epic to remain in the vault. Of course, I said that about the White Stripes' Glace Bay show which was being filmed... seemingly never to be released.

Full setlist:
Don't Change Your Plans
Hospital Song
Your Redneck Past
Your Most Valuable Possession

Jackson Cannery
Eddie Walker
Selfless, Cold and Composed
Battle of Who Could Care Less
Song for the Dumped

After the show, we gathered by the stage doors to hopefully meet Darren and Robert. Most of the people had seen Ben Folds numerous times, but never the full "Five" except for one superfan who'd been to over 50 shows dating back to the old days! We were assured by our insider that those two would definitely be coming out to meet and greet, though Ben had left right away with family. Eventually Robert and Darren came out to a sizable, though not unwieldy throng of fans. They were super gracious, making sure that they didn't leave before everybody got a chance to shake hands, sign stuff, and take photos. Perfect way to cap off an incredible night.

"Grew a mustache and a mullet, got a job at Chick-Fil-A..."
Army by Ben Folds Five

Honestly outside of that song, I'd never heard of Chick-Fil-A let alone seen one. I had to try it before I left town. Not bad, not great.

Here's a treat from the KCRW archives... in July 1997, the boys did a stint on Morning Becomes Eclectic, billed as Ben Folds Five and the BFF Brass Quintet. In other words, the trio were joined by a string quartet. At one point, the DJ jokes "When's the orchestra?". Of course, years later Ben would go on to play orchestral dates in Australia and the US (more orchestral dates next year too!). There is the occasional audio glitch, which is directly from the KCRW stream.

Ben Folds Five & The BFF Brass Quintet
Morning Becomes Eclectic 07/17/1997

01 One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces (with string intro)
02 interview
03 Fair
04 interview
05 Smoke
06 interview
07 Kate
08 interview
09 Theme From Dr. Pyser
10 interview
11 Misirlou/Philosophy
12 Outro

The whole show ZIPPED.

Also, someone from Ben's label passed along his new single for streaming:
Ben Folds featuring Regina Spektor - You Don't Know Me

Way to Normal is due next Tuesday!

Random news:
  • earlier this week, the Dresden Dolls officially called it quits... kinda. :( Though not altogether unsurprising in light of Amanda's solo debut, the crushing news came in a roundabout manner with Brian basically leaving a youTube comment stating as much. Even Amanda found out that way. Ouch. She says: "so here's what's going on, as far as amanda is concerned: the dresden dolls aren't broken up. we're just expanding the empire. while we work on other projects, join other bands, get perspective and travel the world doing god knows what."
    "i love making music with brian viglione way too much to imagine that we won't do more. we don't know when, probably more than a year from now because we're pretty firmly entrenched in our projects (me in my solo record, and brian in his new kick-ass band, world/inferno, who you should go see, because they're awesome)."

  • Weird footnote to my Ben Folds Five adventure: on the Greyhound from Seattle back to Vancouver, we pulled into the Canada/US border at the 24-hour duty free shop for a bathroom break and border shopping (if anyone wanted to at 2am). Ten minutes later we headed for the border check and literally seconds before we left the parking lot, another bus passed us. We pulled in behind them and silently grumbled since that could theoretically delay us an extra 45 minutes or more while they checked that bus. Our driver got off to chat with the border people and came back grumbling about "big wig rock stars". It turned out it was Alicia Keys' tour bus headed to Vancity for a concert the next night. Actually tour buses since another one pulled up beside us. Fortunately they decided to speed process the fifteen or so of us sleepy passengers and let us be on our merry way. Take that, Alicia Keys! If you haven't heard it yet, the new Alicia Keys/Jack White Bond theme Another Way to Die is out on iTunes or stream it here.

  • In related news, folk rocker Ray LaMontagne wrote an ode to Meg White. Seriously.


bobbydylansbeard said...

Do you happen to have Darren Jesse's acoustic version of "Magic?" I had it back in the day, but can't find it anywhere now.

Fongolia said...

I do happen to have that...

bobbydylansbeard said...

you, my good sir, are awesome

bdot said...

holy crap!!!

i love that ben folds/regina spektor tune!!!!

they should call them bengina