Ben Folds Live

Ben Folds

Epic Records, 2002

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


Some people practice the piano. Others play it. Ben Folds rocks it.

It was only a few weeks ago that Jason Warburg posted a review for Ben's album Rockin' The Suburbs. I read how much Jason liked it, and being the fan of piano based rock/pop that I am, decided to buy it. Flash forward to the present, two albums and one amazing concert later, and here I am to heap even more praise on Mr. Folds.

Ben Folds Live (which I am now going to refer to as Live from now on) is a series of performances from his 2002 solo tour. That's right folks, it's just Ben and his piano for the entire album. That may turn many people off, but they would be the ones to miss out. It is here that Folds truly cements his place as the best rock pianists out there today.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

There are a lot of live albums out there that sound just as sterile as an album recording, leaving listeners wonder if some live recordings are just songs that someone in a studio added claps to. Live is an exception to the rule. Despite the fact the songs are taken from various different performances, the album flows as a single show. Adding to that vibe is the audience participation Folds encourages. He recruits his fans to sing the harmonies on the superb "Not The Same," and create a "bitching horn section" as Folds himself puts it during "Army." These are the little touches that make live albums worth getting, the moments that immerse you in the experience.

All that I've mentioned so far is pretty much window dressing, it comes down to the music in the end. Fortunately, that is no problem for Folds. Live features some of the most compelling piano work I have ever heard. On "Zak and Sara," Fold attacks the keys with a ferociousness you wouldn't think possible. Then, on the next track, "Silver Street" he completely shifts gears and plays a soulful, bluesy number. Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" is covered here, and Ben performs it better than Elton can these days. Folds even dips into a little improv on "Rock This Bitch." This allows for Live to have some variety, which is needed for a solo piano album.

Folds ability to write hooks and melodies comes through just as strongly solo as it did when he was with Ben Folds Five. "Brick" is still an aching, poignant ballad. "One Angry Dwarf And 200 Solemn Faces," remains a rave up rocker. "The Luckiest" is just as emotional a tribute to his children as it was on Rockin' The Suburbs. This truly is a testament to the power of Folds songs. His solos are just as captivating. My personal favorite is the bluesy solo he injects into "Army" right before the "horn break." "Philosophy" features the longest solo on Live, and it is a tour de force. Folds is all over the map, playing with various different styles, and even throws in bits of other songs. It's one big mish-mash, but it works.

Live has quickly skyrocketed to the top of my favorite live albums of all time. It's a showing of immense talent and song writing. Folds fans will already know this, but Live will give novices a chance to recognize how good Folds really is.

Rating: A

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© 2004 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.