Sounds in Hiroshima: Ben Folds Five

This is the first article from our new Wide Island View music reviewer  Dan Wilson.  Each month Dan will highlight an artist who is performing in Hiroshima.  Let the musical education begin!

Ben Folds Five – Live at Club Quattro, Hiroshima, 20/2/2013

By Dan Wilson

Ben Folds is a confirmed Japan-o-phile. He tours here just about every year in whatever guise it may be, has written songs about Japan (“Hiroshima”, “Hiro’s Song”), written with Japanese artists (Angela Aki) and written in Japanese (“Hiroshima” and “Song For the Dumped” have both been translated into Japanese for local releases). And in response, his Japanese fans adore him and are amongst his most fanatical. So it was a real treat to get the chance to see Ben Folds Five (Folds – piano, lead vocals, Darren Jesse – drums, Robert Sledge – bass, occasional synth) in Hiroshima last week, reunited after a 12 year hiatus and clearly enjoying themselves just like the good old days.

Quattro is not a big venue, and with a crowd of probably only a little over a hundred, we were afforded a magnificent up-close-and-personal perspective. Strolling nonchalantly out onto the stage, it was clear to see that the members have aged some and packed on a few pounds, but they soon showed that they had lost none of their skills or ability to rock a crowd.

Opening with the up-tempo Motown-esque “Michael Praytor, 5 Years Later” off the newly released album “The Sound of the Life of the Mind”, they soon had the crowd singing along to old favourites like “Jackson Cannery” and “Uncle Walter”, keeping it interesting by interspersing upbeat, crowd pleasers with more introspective, emotional numbers, spanning the band’s entire body of work. Predictably, the song “Hiroshima” off Folds’ most recent solo album had the crowd in raptures. Sung in Japanese, it tells the story of how Folds “busted ass off the front of the stage” at a Hiroshima gig in 2005 and, after cracking his nut open, went on to play the entire set with a concussion on a blood-spattered keyboard. As the song came to a close, he thanked Hiroshima Hospital for “putting me back together”.

BFF shows are renowned for their relaxed intimacy and smart-ass brand of humour.  The band interacts with the crowd and often abandons the set list in order to monkey around and entertain whatever drunken requests might emanate from the galleries, and Wednesday night’s show was no different.

In response to fan requests, the second half of the set saw the band hauling out and dusting off a number of rarities and (these days) seldom heard tunes including “Eddie Walker” a B-side off the first BFF single ever released (“Jackson Cannery”), “Emaline”, “Steven’s Last Night in Town” (still funky despite the lack of a brass section) and even a snippet of “Amelia Bright”, which had to be aborted because Ben couldn’t remember the words. Amongst other titbits, we were treated to an improvised jam which had Folds chanting “Ro-baa-to, Ro-baa-to” while Robert gave us his best robot impression, an acappella rendition of the theme from the 60s TV show “Rawhide” and appearances on stage by Ben’s twin son and daughter.

In total the band kept the crowd fully engaged for well over 2 hours, returning for an encore which comprised “Do It Anyway”, the catchy-as-hell first single off the new album which has the band collaborating with the cast of Fraggle Rock, and finally, a triumphant pounding out of “Song for the Dumped” in Japanese, with its acerbic refrain:

Kane wo kaese, (Give me my money back)

Wasureruna, (And don’t forget)

Kuro no t-shatsu mo ore no dazo” (To give me back my black t-shirt!)

As the band left the stage, Ben shouted “Hiroshima saikou!” and we filed out of the room sweaty and happy, knowing we had witnessed something special. Do yourself a favour and check them out next time you get the chance!