The Michigan Daily - New Student Edition - Tuesday, September 3, 2002 - 9D
Rockin' the Suurbs
Fold the band: Ben goes solo
Sarcastic piamno man touring all bykhs lonesome
By Luke Smith
Daily Arts Editor
"I mean it's not fucking cool to be like Billy
Joel," laughs Ben Folds. "I sing out of tune all
the time, and I get shit wrong, and he doesn't."
A man stands at a piano plays his heart out
and everyone wants to say he's Billy Joel, except
for him. The problem with being a guy in front
of a piano in music now, a time when metal and
rap/metal are barely alive and kicking yet some-
how still dominating airwaves, are the inevitable
comparisons to piano composers of yore. Folds
narrates many of his songs in the third person,
with lyrical styling sharing similarities with ex-
Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus.
Folds formed and lead the ironically titular
group in 1994, sans guitarist, near the height of
over-commercialized guitar grunge. Ben Folds
Five released a self-titled independent effort
whose tin-pan alley indie-pop propagated a
major label bidding war. It was the band's fol-
low-up and Sony debut, Whatever and Ever
Amen that broke the band: The bitter "Brick,"
about a pair of teens sneaking off to have an
abortion, beamed out of top 40 and modern rock
radio towers alike. Whatever was a leftfield hit,
selling over a million copies.
The band released a B-sides and outtakes LP
in 1998 before dropping their final album The
Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner.
Reinhold portrayed a desperate band, beginning
to grow apart. Widely regarded as the strongest
of the Ben Folds Five catalog, the album was
met with praise and lukewarm sales. Messner
was a darker depiction and often a depar-
ture from the upbeat piano pop for
which the band was known. Rein-
hold incorporated stringed
arrangements and even a
tune in "Most Valuable
Possession" (the song
was an answering
of Folds' father,
with tweaked musi-
and a fatherly lec-
ture on the importance
of intellectual preserva-
tion). The record was far more coimercially
inaccessible, especially to radio's fickle ears,
than the Five's previous efforts and sales
November of 2000 brought the unexpected
announcement of the Ben Folds Five's breakup.
While the band was unraveling
during the support tour for Rein-
hold, anxiety, nervousness and
tension were high inside the Five. BEN F
Folds told The Michigan Daily,
"During the time when the band Atec
was breaking up, I had to go out
and feel like I did when I was March 1,
playing a talent show in 12th
grade." After the Five disbanded, Clear Ch
Folds began work on his second
solo record (his first, an avant-pop album
recorded under the moniker Fear of Pop, came
out in 1998).
Rockin' the Suburbs hit shelves in September
of 2001, and Ben Folds was back, minus the
Five. The album most resembles the pop sensi-
bility of Whatever and Ever Amen, but the
recording is bigger, and the writing is better.
Songs like "Zak and Sara,"
"Fred Jones Part 2" and
s o n r<
narration that Folds cultivated in the mid-'90s.
Suburbs is undoubtedly the slickest recording
Ben Folds has released, either by himself or
with the Five. "The songs probably relate a lit-
tle stronger," Folds said, "and in a way, it's
probably not as exciting because it is so highly
Part of Folds' reasoning for the
resounding pop sensibilty on Rockin'
the Suburbs was the lack of radio play
the Five's final album received. "I
really felt like I'd written songs before
that should've been hits, and I don't
know why they weren't. They weren't
produced the right way, we took too
many liberties with it, they weren't
Rockin the Suburbs, Ben Folds;
A year after deffunking the Five.
Ben Folds solo drop Rockin /e Suh-
urbs picks uip where The Llnnuho-
rizedt Bic ivpi,of lReinhold Azlesne-
left off, with melancholy ditties and a
continuing reliance on quasi-mature
pian-ic power ballads. Ivory tickl 'd
freakouts find themselves fewer and
farther between in the Suburbs. Not
lax and lethargic is Folds' sharp
tongue, which is planted firmly in his
cheek throughout Rockin.
Folds' gentle coo on "The Ascent
of Stan" is thrown off by his oddball
lyrics "Textbook hippy mn/Get rest
while you can" and disjointed song-
smithing, the track later breaks out
into a techno-warble induced pops-
Ben Folds harkens briefly back to
the Five's "Where's Summer B?"
with the narrative number "Zak and
Sara" The song combines the story-
telling sentiment of "Jack and Diane"
spun with a Billy Joel breakdown.
Fods adoration for AM radio pops,
crackles and snaps throughout the
Suburbs jaunting through the musical
giggly-weeds with Folds' one-man-
band-dom (he played all the instru-
ments on the record) and his solo
virtuoso bubbles on "Fired."
Folds pulls the plug of irony on a
few occasions, drip-drying the han-
kercheif on "Carry ing Cathy'" a sui-
cide ballad that wvsas left off the band's
denoument finding itself a permanent
home in the Suburbs.
The title-track rips and roars
through a series of dynamic changes,
sporting wit-rich lyrics and sarcasti-
cally pointed metal homages.
Suburbs is the old-man mature
answer to the Five's purveying juve-
nility and makes for a smarty-pants
sing-a-long. Rockin the Suburbs is
singable, smart and sardonic. Sham
RAfING: ****A A
big enough recordings and for some
reason, they weren't really flying at radio, and I
thought they should." When recording Rockin',
Folds took careful heed of producer Ben
Grosse's words: "I thought, 'OK I'm going to
listen to the advice of my producer, and when
something doesn't sound big or large enough or
pop enough, I'm gonna make it that way,'
because I don't want to take a great song and
have it wasted."
After a pair of successful tours last year,
Folds is hitting the road again. "It's my first
real solo tour; it's just going to be me, a van
and a piano." Folds' solo tour will be the first
time he's revisited the Five's material during
his regular set-list since the band's break up.
(Folds' encores during the two fall tours con-
sisted of him at the piano playing audi-
ence requests.) H e said., "With the
encore sets, I don't need a set-list,
because whatever someone wants to
hear, I can play it."
Listeners shouldn't expect to hear
a set-list of new material; rest
assured, he'll be playing all kinds
of songs. "Anything goes, unless
it's something I really don't feel
like I'm inspired to play at that
moment, or it's something that
really doesn't make sense at the
piano," he said.
And the all-too frequent Billy
Joel comparisons? "I would like to
be compared to Randy Newman or
Todd Rundgren. I dig what they do."
Tenacious D rocks the
socks off St
By Lyle Henretty and Luke Smith
Daily Arts Editors
The self-proclaimed "greatest band on
Earth" gave the proletariat a treat by slumming
it at the State Theatre in Detroit this past Octo-
ber. Tenacious D, in the personage of Jack
Black and Kyle Gass, took the nearly-sold-out
crowd on an acoustic odyssey through their
souls, in the process playing most
of their new album and several
cult favorites from their short-
lived HBO series.
Before The D transcended the
stage for their nearly two-hour
feast on the senses, opening act
Sounds of Urchin brought the
crowd to a seething frenzy for
While this was not entirely true, the boys did
rip through both obscure gems and classics,
such as their career-making "Tribute," a tribute
to the "best song in the world," which they had
also written but subsequently forgotten. They
also commandeered a few songs from other,
lesser bands, including Guns 'n Roses ("Mr.
Brownstone") The Who (From Tommy) and
The Beatles (including a closing
medley from Abby Road). The port-
ly pair even found time to sponta-
)US D neously treat the audience to "Eye
of the Tiger." Ivan Drago was
eater unable to make an appearance.
,2001 The music intermingled seam-
lessly with the some famous D
sketches ("Inward Singing," lots of
oral sex jokes). Yet it was their musical and
lyrical genius that made this the best concert
Detroit has ever been privy to. "Fuck Her
Gently" is the perfect anti-love song, and
"Kyle Quit the Band" and "Kyle Took a Bullet
For Me" are pitch-perfect odes to The D's
quiet guitar prodigy.
Black admitted that the concert really
began in Detroit, at their biggest venue thus
far, and their excitement was tripled by the D-
loving audience, who received the duo for
what they are, the homely, humble "greatest
band in the world." And in true rock form, The
D were treated to a host of female chests at
stage left while they mercilessly kicked out
humor-tinged hard rock. Complimenting The
D's more folksy riffs, Urchin's lead guitarist
(The Reverend B. Ill) sent volts of electric
energy out through the crowd. The good Rev-
erend was kind enough not to talk in rhyme
and let his fanatical shred on his Fender do
much of the chat'ting.
After a thorough warming-up, the crowd
frothed for the greatness that was the night's
main attraction. The soundtrack to "Willy
Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" emanated
through the speakers, occasionally heard over
frenzied cries for The D.
The tenacious ones began their set with
crowd-pleaser "Wonderboy," their first single.
While this pleased many, die-hard
fans could be heard mumbling
about a "sell-out." Motion picture
and music video master Spike
Jonze has filmed a clip for the
song, which is sure to catapult
band to the forefront of the Total
Request Live; teeny-bopper sect
that has yet to be receptive to their
As fans cried for their own
favorite taste of The D, Black
angrily asserted that they don't do
requests. Gass then reminded that
they would, on the other hand,
play every song that they had ever
Its a chubby not-so-teenage wasteland on stage.
Afterwards, fans of the D who had pur-
chased the CD that evening were granted a
meet and greet with the Two Kings. Patrons
were funneled up a staircase where the
scepters- held by KG and JB were Sharpie pens
and treated to an autograph and a kind word. It
was more than a kind word though which made
the D's trip to Detroit worth each fan's while.
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