Live Review: Ben Folds Five + Phebe Starr - Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide (16.11.12)

November 16th, 2012 was the first time that Ben Folds, bassist Robert Sledge, and drummer Darren Jessee (aka the three who make up Ben Folds Five) have played together in Adelaide in thirteen years. I was lucky enough to be able to see the show at the Thebarton Theatre, and it was pretty damn good.

The show was opened by Phebe Starr, a talented synth-pop pianist from New South Wales. Her vocal style was similar to Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, rousing and full of depth and vibrato. She was a good opening act, and it was nice to hear some new music from an up and coming Australian musician. I was especially impressed with her song “Maneki Neko”. It had a really nice, eight-bit video game style intro and sweet, sparkly vocals.
Phebe Starr is definitely worth checking out, as an aside. Her song structures are really interesting, and she's a talented musician. Her debut single “Alone With You” sounds similar to some of Claire Bowditch's work, and while slower than some of her other stuff, is still quite good.

Anyway, after the delightful Phebe Starr left the stage, Ben Folds Five entered to the, ahem, rousing strains of some sort energetic, euro-trashy hard dance. It didn't really make sense until I realised that Ben Folds is...funny. He looks like a hyperactive version of Seymour from Little Shop Of Horrors, and he angles himself awkwardly at the piano instead of sitting on the stool. At one point, when he couldn't get the stool adjusted properly, he smacked it on the piano. He's an entertaining performer, and his bandmates are good backup. They play off each other well, and after almost twenty years together off and on they are really comfortable together on stage. This ease rubs off on the audience, lending an easygoing, casual vibe to the show.
It helped that everyone in the audience was clearly very into Ben Folds Five. At several points the audience were singing louder than the band, even despite the Thebarton's impressive sound system.

It was pretty great watching Ben Folds essentially just muck around on stage, telling stories about his time in Adelaide – he lived here for several years when he was married to his Australian first wife. He chatted and played jazzy piano interludes in between Ben Folds Five favourites like “Erase Me” and the hilarious “Draw A Crowd” - “if you're feeling small, and you can't draw a crowd, then draw dicks on the wall”.

The high point of the night was probably the encore, “Song For The Dumped” - hearing almost 2000 people sing “give me my money back, you bitch” is surprisingly fantastic, even if you have an aversion to the word. I found it kind of weird that they didn't play their song “Adelaide” at all. I mean it's about us, you'd think that would be the ultimate crowd pleaser, right? But maybe that thought it was pandering.

Other than that, though, the Band covered all their bases, playing a good selection of songs from their eighteen year career. The audience was awesomely responsive, and it was essentially a really fun gig. I'd suggest going to go see Ben Folds Five just based on how entertaining Ben Folds is. The great music is just an added bonus.