Dallas In the space of two songs, the years evaporated like smoke.
Sunday night at the Palladium Ballroom, the newly reunited Ben Folds Five opened with the melancholy Missing the War, a track from the trio's 1997 sophomore album Whatever and Ever Amen. As the final chords faded out, Ben Folds, Robert Sledge and Darren Jessee struck up Michael Praytor, Five Years Later, the lead-off tune from The Sound of the Life of the Mind, BFF's first studio effort in 13 years. It was as if no time had passed.
But much had transpired in the interim, not least of which was Folds establishing himself as a proficient, tirelessly touring solo artist (indeed, he was just in North Texas -- and Fort Worth -- this past April). It was the desire to strike out on his own which triggered the original dissolution of BFF; many of his solo albums don't sound radically different from what BFF was doing when it split in 2000.
Long resistant to the idea of reuniting the moderately successful rock band (its big hit, Brick, was a brief moment in the sun), Folds, in need of fresh Ben Folds Five songs for a 2011 retrospective compilation, finally decided it was time to bring Sledge and Jessee back, which resulted in the recording of Mind and a reaction not unlike sheer ecstasy among the group's diehard fans.
The Palladium was far from sold out Sunday, but you wouldn't have known it looking around at the predominantly male crowd, many of whom shouted back lyrics at the stage with the sort of wistful look in their eyes that's common at reunion shows. Yet, the Ben Folds Five concert felt refreshingly motivated by music, rather than money, eliminating the crass atmosphere which can permeate these victory laps. It also helped that the trio hasn't missed a beat in the interim, attacking songs old and new with the kind of fervor typically demonstrated by bands half its age.
Favorites like Alice Childress, The Battle of Who Could Care Less and Selfless, Cold and Composed juxtaposed nicely with fresh works like Erase Me and Do It Anyway, as Folds, ever the irreverent frontman, regaled the crowd with profane asides, spontaneous "musical digressions," and fond memories about BFF's previous tours through Dallas, reminiscing about "the heavy metal joint" in Deep Ellum where BFF performed to "10 people" in 1995. "We didn't play any Styx," deadpanned Folds.
The audience roared its appreciation, Ben Folds Five deftly struck up another song, and the warm glow of nostalgia filled the room like spring sunshine. Not all reunions can be so crisp and effortless, but it's so much nicer when they are.