Ben Folds and his group “Ben Folds Five” played an energetic, extremely musical, extremely tight show for almost two hours last week at The Warfield.

Reunited after 13 years, and on tour promoting their 2012 album, “The Sound of the Life of the Mind” (seven of the 20 tunes appear on this album), the band sounded like they’ve been playing together for all of those 13 years when, in fact, the album was the result of a grassroots internet campaign by fans via “PledgeMusic”. Seven more songs came from 1997′s “Whatever And Ever Amen” album.

Musically the performance exceeded expectations. The sound emanating from the three-piece band seemed more like a group of five or six. Darren Jessee on drums kept the beat moving while Robert Sledge seemed as comfortable on his double bass (upright bass) as he did on his electric bass.

The San Francisco show was being broadcast live on Mark Cuban’s HDNet’s AXS TV (“access”, www.axs.com) which, though it was great exposure for the band, provided quite a number of distractions to the audience. The house lights were left on during the whole show, hampering the mood considerably while a large, remotely-controlled boom camera hovered over the audience swinging and twirling around during the entire show (presumably leaving the fans in TV Land running for the Dramamine).

The songlist was mellower than other shows (e.g. “Selfless”, “Cold and Composed”, “Sky High”, “Missing The War”), but had many upbeat moments, like the raucous “Jackson Cannery” from the “Underground” album. The band’s harmonies where as tight as their music and the Warfield facilitated excellent acoustics, as usual.

“Hold That Thought” and “Do it Anyway” were great showcases for Folds’ piano talents and the band’s robust sound.

The two-hour show was focused primarily, and understandably, on songs from albums by “Ben Folds Five” with only one tune, albeit a highlight of the show, from Ben Folds’ solo career, “Landed”, which seemed consistent with the audience who were energetic, singing along to almost every song, with an a cappella role in “Army”.

Folds was in a story-telling mood on Thursday, with humorous stories about almost joining the army, “jury” at music school (and getting beat up defending his roommate), bullying, breakups, and his now-deceased cat named Alice waking him up by pouring water on his face. There was also a brief lesson on the difference between rock bands and orchestras, the latter using a baton and no “count-off”. The demonstration that the Ben Folds Five were so tight that they didn’t need a count-off took about 5 minutes before the audience could remain quite for the 15 seconds required to pull off that feat.

Other highlights included “Brick” (from “Whatever And Ever Amen”), the angry, and audience favorite, “Song for the Dumped” and the piano-intensive encore “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces”.

All in all, a very satisfying show for Ben Folds Five fans. ~ by Keith Bernstein and Jonathan Ellenbogen

Set list (Ben Folds Five at The Warfield, San Francisco, January 31st, 2012)

(song/album/artist)

First Set:

1. Michael Praytor, Five Years Later / The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind / Ben Folds Five

2. Jackson Cannery / Underground  / Ben Folds Five

3. Hold That Thought  / The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind / Ben Folds Five

4. Selfless, Cold and Composed  / Whatever And Ever Amen / Ben Folds Five

5. Erase Me  / The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind / Ben Folds Five

6. Landed / Songs for Silverman / Ben Folds

7. Sky High  / The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind / Ben Folds Five

8. Missing The War  / Whatever And Ever Amen / Ben Folds Five

9. Battle of Who Could Care Less / Whatever And Ever Amen / Ben Folds Five

10. Draw A Crowd  / The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind / Ben Folds Five

11. Thank You For Breaking My Heart  / The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind / Ben Folds Five

12. Brick  / Whatever And Ever Amen / Ben Folds Five

13. Philosophy  / Ben Folds Five (eponymous) / Ben Folds Five

14. Kate  / Whatever And Ever Amen / Ben Folds Five

15. Do It Anyway / The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind / Ben Folds Five

16. Alice Childress  / Ben Folds Five (eponymous) / Ben Folds Five

17. Army  / The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner / Ben Folds Five

18. Song for the Dumped  / Whatever And Ever Amen / Ben Folds Five

Encore:

19. Underground / Underground / Ben Folds Five

20. One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces / Whatever And Ever Amen / Ben Folds Five