Ben Folds Five made a triumphant, if subdued, return to the local stage Sunday night at Cary’s Koka Booth Amphitheater. With many in the crowd seemingly puzzled at the set list, which leaned toward old-school selections from the trio’s catalogue, the group showed that age has only sharpened their musical talents, if also settling their onstage antics down a bit from their heyday.
The night began with Australian singer-songwriter Kate Miller-Heidke taking the stage as the opener. The crowd was mostly quiet, if polite, for the singer, who gave off a sort of Andrew Bird-by-way-of Tori Amos vibe at the start; lots of yelps, lots of near-yodels. Her songs all veered toward the overwrought, most having to do with letting friends down or not sticking up for the bullied kid that liked you when you were young. She began kissing up to the crowd with a knowing wink toward the end, telling us that Ben Folds crowds seem to be smarter and more literate than the normal concertgoer. At that point she broke into a cover of Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady”, cementing my opinion as fact that we as a nation are now over the whole “white person doing an ironic cover of a rap song for laughs.” Take it back to Oz, lady.
After a short break in the entertainment to set the stage, the local heroes arrived. Opening their set with one of their new songs, “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later”, we were off to the races; the crowd was on their feet rocking out to the classic “Jackson Cannery” within minutes of the band plugging in.
Years ago, someone described Ben Folds Five as head banging music made for piano. Never was this more apparent than on this night. The songs crossed generational gaps, as college freshmen nodded along to “Battle of Who Could Care Less” with the father of three standing across the aisle from them.
It wasn’t until the end of the show that I noticed that the set list was made up almost entirely of the band’s songs, and was entirely skipping Ben’s solo output. In articles written leading up to this tour it has been mentioned that the returning members are having to play catch-up with the singer’s prolific output since the band’s breakup; it’s not entirely clear whether the set list of the show was due to this problem, or because they felt like giving the audience a chance to hear songs they hadn’t heard in years.
The night ended early after a short encore that consisted of only “Underground” and “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces”, but what it lacked in quantity it more than made up in quality. Other than the two kids behind me that screamed out the entire night for “Zak and Sara”, everyone left with smiles on their faces, knowing that they had just witnessed what may have been the perfect capper to this year’s concert season.