It came during the final moments of “Selfless, Cold, and Composed,” a mere five songs into Saturday’s sold-out Ben Folds Five concert at the House of Blues. While drummer Darren Jessee, taking advantage of the voluminous space within the song, kept things loose and swaying, bassist Robert Sledge watched pianist Folds intently from the other side of the stage, cueing off him as they approached the finish line. A dozen years after breaking up, Ben Folds Five was unquestionably a band again.
That sense of interplay, where the musicians aren’t simply playing at the same time but are keyed into one another, is vital to any successful reunion, and Ben Folds Five wasn’t faking it. Opening song “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later” took care to reintroduce the players by way of spotlighting them, beginning as it did with a spirited drum flam and later featuring an overdriven bass solo that bled into Folds pounding out fistfuls of notes. But the song’s bones were a swinging clomp built on togetherness.
The set list scrupulously avoided Folds’s solo career with the lone exception of “Landed,” which didn’t offer Sledge and Jessee much opportunity to pop. That may have been a coincidence, not, or it could have been a sign of a more mundane reunion pitfall, as some new songs like “Erase Me” and “Sky High” seemed fine but ordinary.
Ben Folds Five
Not all, though. “Thank You for Breaking My Heart” was a sad, stoic waltz benefiting from delicate, judicious additions from the band; Jessee in particular only added occasional color, and brilliantly so. And “Do It Anyway” barreled along like a train, punctuated twice by a hearty whoop from Folds.
That marked just about the only time the otherwise unflappable frontman appeared to let loose. On the surface, anyway; his wryness was evident throughout, at one point laying out the timeline for the remainder of the show, down to the encore and “songs that were conspicuously absent from the set.” More importantly, he was also intensely engaged from start to finish, both with the audience and his long-absent band. Perhaps he was reminded of what a strong fit they really were.
Folds favorite Kate Miller-Heidke opened the show backed solely by her husband-guitarist Keir Nuttall. At her best, she injected just enough whimsy to leaven the sadness of the whispery “The Tiger Inside Will Eat the Child” and the tense, stacked acoustic loops of “Humiliation.” At her worst, as on a mock-operatic smirk through Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady,” she was indistinguishable from Ana Gasteyer’s “SNL” character Bobbi Mohan-Culp.