BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
It’s practically a given — in Rock ‘n’ Roll realms, those that pound the piano keys generally play second fiddle to guitar gods. Sure, Little Richard, Billy Joel, Elton John and Jerry Lee might dispute that notion, but for the most part, when it comes to posturing and posing, it’s the axe-slingers that grab center stage and attract all the attention. And while the occasional keyboard-based trios – i.e. The Nice and ELP – once put the keyboards in the spotlight, it was often little more than an excuse to revel in pomposity and pretension.
Consequently, when a band like the Ben Folds Five comes along – being a threesome, the Five factor is an inside joke – it’s refreshing to find that runaway egos aren’t part of the equation. As Live — the immediate follow-up to their recent reunion LP The Sound of the Life of the Mind — demonstrates so effectively, flash and verve are produced through a combined dynamic. Instrumentally adept, they’re unafraid to explore jazzier realms. Yet, even though songs like “Erase Me,” “Selfless, Cold and Composed,” “Narcolepsy” and “Do It Anyway” come complete with complex chord structures, grand crescendos and intricate arrangements, the accessibility factor is still of prime importance. Happily too, Folds also takes great joy in mocking his own nerdish tendencies. “I’m always playing 17 chords, always in a complicated key,” he jests on the self-effacing “One Chord Blues/Billie S Bounce,” before admitting, “I don’t know what I’m going to sing… some fucking BS…”
Newcomers may be a bit overwhelmed by all the frenzied drive of their delivery, but the combination of irony and assurance guarantees populist appeal.
DOWNLOAD: “One Chord Blues/Billie S Bounce,” “Selfless, Cold and Composed,” “Narcolepsy”