Volume 91, Issue 98

Thursday, April 2, 1998

cash grab


Following Folds to success

Gazette File Photo

WHERE'S MA AN' PA?. Ben Folds Five are two members short of fulfilling their band name, but nevertheless attempt to continue their indie-pop success with style.

By Carey Weinberg
Gazette Staff

Ben Folds Five has garnered respect in the music industry since its inception.

The guys in the band are the music industry darlings of the 1990s with many facets separating them musically from the herd. In a genre commonly referred to as bland, boring, without ingenuity and still dominated by guitar-based bands, Ben Folds Five uses an uncommon set-up featuring piano, bass and drums.

What makes these guys so likeable is their knack for having fun and ability not to take themselves too seriously. On stage, it's evident the band members are in their element, they turn their off-stage flippancy into entertaining, subdued humour combined with good musicianship augmented by solid songwriting into a tasty nougat of a performance.

At a press conference in Toronto, upon seeing a mob of college hack writers, bassist Robert Sledge says, "We will be forced to deploy weaponry," in the style of humour which characterizes the band's approach to being up-and-coming super-stars.

Out of the folds of Chapel Hill, North Carolina which seems a strange place for a musical hotbed, comes Ben Folds Five. Polvo, Archers of Loaf, Cypress Hill, and Superchunk are a few of the bands resting in Chapel Hill's heated futon. And Ben Folds Five are leading the sheep out of the fields on a global proportion.

The band has been receiving recognition in Japan. "I think originally they liked us because they thought we were 18 years-old – seriously, I believe they thought we were this really cute boy band. When we went over there, they realized we had a lot more hair, in a lot more places."

With childlike qualities and hair growing in obscure places, the band is selling-out places usually designated to arena rock icons. And they're doing it with a blues band set up.

Seeing a bass, drum and piano band makes its way to the forefront of popular music is odd considering the lack of precedent. Ben Folds himself refers to Glen Gould and Oscar Peterson as two people in the industry who he respects, yet the type of music Folds plays is quite a deviation from those legends.

Folds humbly states he doesn't play in the same genre as those two because "I'm just not that good," but it goes deeper than that. The best voice for members of Ben Folds Five to articulate themselves with artistically could not be contained in a jazz format. Quite simply, they have too much energy and insanity in need of release – which is the same stuff bringing them their success.

Ben Folds Five creates such a big wall of sound from a trio. They're incredibly energetic and innovative entertainers. At the Phoenix show in Toronto, Sledge removed the cable from his bass and touched his hand with it. The sound produced from that action was initially a buzzing feedback, but Sledge made it sound like a Chemical Brothers sample and the rest of the band broke into an electronica-style jam.

In another segment of the show, Folds took his microphone and started scratching on the piano strings while the rest of the band jammed out.

In both cases, the band emulated the stuff which rock purists hate (sampling and scratching), but they did it in a purist way using no samples and pressing no buttons. In a sense, the band acknowledged the validity of those musical styles, while impressively demonstrating how it can be done differently. At times, it's as if the trio plays like a five-piece band with the variations of sound they emit from a minimalist set-up.

On the heels of their mega-hit "Brick," Ben Folds Five is on its way up. The band members are becoming the henchmen of standard rock by changing the face and possibilities of the ingredients for success in popular music.

To Contact The Arts and Entertainment Department: gazent@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright The Gazette 1998