Ben Folds finally hit the stage with a five-piece last night, 10 years after disbanding the ironically named trio Ben Folds Five. But the two additional players didn't bring any extra energy to the stage. Latter-day Folds is pretty mellow, calmly sitting behind the keys like you might expect from a piano man. Gone are the raucous live sets fans remember from BF5's late-'90s heyday, which featured Folds jumping all over his grand piano and otherwise heaping indie-rock abuse on the 88 keys.
About that five-piece, one of the new guys plays a guitar. I know. The other dude plays keyboard. Why would Ben Folds need a backup keyboard player? I guess because he played French horn on one track. One thing rock 'n' roll does not need is more French horn.
Last night at the LC he whipped out just two BF5 classics, "Kate" (from 1997's "Whatever and Ever Amen") and "Army" (from 1999's "The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner"). They were definitely highlights. Otherwise the set drew heavily from 2001's "Rockiní the Suburbs" for some reason. Those songs have held up fine, but he's written lots of solid and more interesting tracks since. Even his new disc "Lonely Avenue" (with lyrics penned by the novelist Nick Hornby) was represented by just a handful of songs.
But the real highlights of a Folds show these days don't show up on disc. His new mellow persona is a masterful improviser, creating songs on the fly and spinning shout-outs from the crowd into fully realized tracks. (When Folds was in town last year to play with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra at Vets, he stayed on stage by himself for about an hour after the orchestra left, just improvising and screwing around with the audience. Awesome.)
Last night some jackass tried to start the "OH-IO!" chant; Folds turned it into a funny salute to the Columbus battle cry. In another improvised jam, he admitted that he secretly wants to move to the Short North, and professed his love for Betty's, Lemongrass, Zen Cha, Magnolia Thunderpussy and Used Kids. Dude gets around C-Bus.