Following Ben Folds Five‘s split and Ben’s first solo album, this live album might be dismissed as a stopgap to keep his considerable fanbase happy – but this is one of the most entertaining albums you are likely to hear this year.
Like his recent shows, the album was recorded without a backing band and with no special effects – just a piano and a microphone. That the listener’s attention can be held for all 17 songs is therefore an amazing feat.
Opening track One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces from the 1997 album Whatever And Ever Amen sets the tone for the rest of the CD. The recipe of humour, ‘geeky/loser’ lyrics, violent piano onslaughts and gentle soft tinkering tunes, adds up to an unbeatable combination.
All of Ben Folds career is reflected on this record, from his early band days right up to his recent solo effort. Although the track listing is mixed up, with old songs and new songs following each other, the album still flows very well.
The mixing by Ben and Marc Chevalier has to be commended. The audience are audible throughout but not in such a way as to spoil the audio quality.
Just like the 1997 Ben Folds Five Rarities & Live album Naked Baby Photos this CD contains a spontaneous ditty inspired by an audience member’s repeated hollering of “Rock This Bitch!” On some albums, this type of track can be quite intrusive when stuck in the middle of the “real” songs. That is not the case here. It is short, funny and in style with the entertaining, often spontaneous, nature of his shows.
Elsewhere, Tiny Dancer sees Ben take on the Elton John masterpiece which has gone through a resurgence in popularity since the release of the Cameron Crowe film ‘Almost Famous’. As you might expect, Ben tackles this song with the grace and respect that it deserves.
If you are lucky enough to pick up the limited edition version you will also get a bonus eight track DVD (Seven songs and one humorous segment showing how the album’s artwork was achieved). And here is where I found my only complaint. Track eight on the DVD is a reworking of the classic Song For The Dumped. Instead of the raucous wild version that appeared on Whatever and Ever Amen, this is a quiet, meandering and extremely funny version that begs for the viewer to sing along with it. But this isn’t on the album!
That aside, this is a truly marvellous, fun, touching and above all entertaining album that should be at the top of everyone’s Christmas Wish List.