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Ben Folds + Ben Kweller

Chase Martyn

'What the hell? Ben Folds has a band?' I've been looking for an excuse to use 'chucklehead' in a headline. Thanks dude.

Ben Folds + Ben Kweller

Ben Folds + Ben Kweller

City: Crawfordsville, Indiana
Venue: Wabash College
Date: 2005-02-12

Ben Folds
Ben Kweller
"What the hell? He has a band?" Through the crowd of emo-kids, collar-popped frat guys, and hipsters, I listened closely as confused comments began to fly. "He has a band? Is this going to suck?" Yes, he does. No it isn't. Had the questioners paid more attention to 2003's Speed Graphic and Sunny 16 EPs and the hot-off-the-metaphorical-presses Super D EP, they might have been less surprised; but even those releases didn't hint at the concert that was to come. I know a lot of people who really like Ben Folds. They like the emotion he commanded on "Brick", the playfulness he exhibited on "One Down". They respect his musical precision and his ability to improvise and to rearrange his music extemporaneously; they like his nerdy-but-cool persona. Folds's concert at Wabash College last weekend was a drop-jaw moment for those people, you know, the ones who know he made his name by leading A BAND. It wasn't the same Ben Folds heard on the Ben Folds Live release (or, for that matter, any of his releases, from his demo tapes to his most recent EP). The skinny, suburban songwriter emerged from the old gym locker room a rock star, laser spotlights and all. Folds, accompanied by a drummer and bassist, displayed a more full-bodied sound than I expected. This was due in large part to the versatility and talent of his band mates, who harmonized vocals while playing with expert precision. As a group, the musicians were tighter than most bands that have been writing and touring together for ages. They executed Folds's older songs (which were clearly rearranged to accommodate their three parts) alongside his newer ones, with equal precision. The set list wasn't all that old-school fans had hoped for, though there was plenty of room for crowd favorites like "Zak and Sara" and "Army" in Folds' two-hour performance. But "Brick", "The Last Polka", and the concert favorite "Rock This Bitch" were noticeably absent. In their place, Folds played several songs from his EPs, the title track from his forthcoming album Landed, due out in April, and a hilarious cover of Dr. Dre's "Bitches Ain't Shit", to be released sometime soon via iTunes. Fans were high-energy for the whole set, but many were a bit perturbed that, perhaps following his own advice on Sunny 16's "Rock Star" ("You've got to give the people what they want/ Oh, is that what you are?"), Folds didn't take any requests. He did "perform" for the audience, though. During "Rockin' The Suburbs", Folds took over on the bass guitar while the bassist screamed the F word. "Not the Same", came to a fiery conclusion as Folds stood on top of his piano frantically conducting the singing crowd. While Folds shined, Ben Kweller opened the evening with a disappointing performance. Kweller played alone, tired and unenthusiastic. His set lasted for under 45 minutes, mixing songs from Sha Sha and On My Way that seemed to vary from the recordings only in the lacking accompaniment, oh and Kweller's occasionally off-pitch vocals. Compared to the fullness of Ben Folds's set, Kweller's fell flat. And, although Kweller and Folds were both there (and Folds often invites opening acts on stage to perform with him, and Kweller played a relatively short set), they didn't perform any of The Bens' songs (or anything else) together. They call it the difference principle: start out with something mediocre, and anything better will seem much better in comparison. Although I was wary of Fold's post-2002 releases before the show, Folds more than made up for Kweller's mediocrity. In philosophy, the difference principle states that people who perform at a higher level will earn greater income. According to the website for event organizers Pretty Polly Productions (www.prettypolly.com), Folds earned probably three times the Benjamins that Kweller did. Leave it to a college rock concert to put philosophy into action.

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