Ben Folds Five - Live At O2 Academy, Brixton

Happiness among the venom

The first of this two-night residency is brimming with anticipation and middle-aged men in band t-shirts. It’s exciting. As soon as Mr Folds enters the stage, looking like an Apple executive, these men turn into the equivalent of Miley Cyrus fans, but with deeper cheers. There’s a lot of love in the room.

And so there should be. The greatest hits from Ben Folds Five’s back catalogue are punchy and flawless. There are taps and nods, loud singing and many a jump down memory lane from the crowd.

On stage, the piano playing is raucous and manic in a way that only Ben Folds can play, standing and jumping at the keys while his band create a massive sound with just drums, bass and harmonies. There’s no doubt that Ben Folds is still the nucleus of the Five – or three – but there’s a definite special feeling in the air having the old group together on stage again.

‘Missing the War’ is pretty subdued for such an early number in the night, but its Beach Boys melody and harmonies stuns the crowd to silence and we're pretty sure a few fist shapes were thrown, maybe even some things in eyes.

‘Jackson Cannery’ soon restores crazier order with its thumping percussion and bluesy keys, which remains for new-ish number ‘Erase Me’, showing that these are some die-hard fans taking the new with the old tonight. The mellow opening dives head first into a chorus nostalgic of the old days, with fuzz bass and a rollercoaster of vocals. It’s brilliant. The old vibe remains with new material throughout the night, like the amazing ‘Do It Anyway’, slightly glam, slightly protest punk, slightly cabaret, but whole heartedly Ben Folds with the catchiest of choruses delighting first ears and simply eye-wateringly amazing piano playing.

But most of tonight is about the old songs, from ‘Alice Childress’ to the lovely ‘Landed’, like an early Elton song when the drugs still made him interesting.

This was not a gig to shush your neighbour and the mass singalong continued to fill the roof of Brixton Academy for "Battle of who could care less," the harmonies as great as ever and Ben Folds' voice still as perfect as the smart shirt wearing angsty pot smoker of the mid '90s.

The boogie woogie of ‘Uncle Walter’ and the heartfelt tones of ‘Brick’ continues the love-in before ‘Song for the Dumped’ – the best break-up song ever, featuring the best line of any break up song: "Give me my money back you bitch," shouted tonight with such enthusiasm. There was singing, there was standing on pianos, there was fuzz, there was a jazz interlude. There was so much happiness among the venom!

‘Kate’ and  ‘Underground’ are just huge and it makes you wonder why these guys ever went their separate ways. With four marriages behind him, I guess Ben Folds is just a bit of a tricky guy. Tonight, he can do no wrong. The three-part psych falsetto harmonies have thousands of new voices joining them. It’s a racket, but oh. So. Much. Fun.  Everything’s happy in Brixton!

 

Words by Gemma Hampson

Photos by Rachel Lipsitz

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