Baltimore City Paper

Ben Folds: Still Fighting the Battle of Who Could Care Less

The annals of rock history don't want for passionately perturbed malcontents who punt from and perch precariously upon piano stools--Tori Amos, Elton John, Alicia Keys, and that dude from OneRepublic immediately leap to mind. Ben Folds is, nonetheless, a special case. As frontman for the egregiously named Ben Folds Five and later as a soloist, the North Carolina native has made misery his great subject; consider that one of his biggest singles, the devastatingly autobiographical "Brick," was about accompanying a girlfriend to an abortion clinic and the ensuing, damning silences that followed.

Since breaking through alt-rock's guitar-dominated ceiling in the '90s as a ivory-tickling wiseacre willing and able to enable William Shatner's perpetual career resuscitation, Folds has established himself as an poignant-if-flippant chronicler of Generation X adult angst. A worthy heir to Billy Joel's kingdom--even if he isn't quite banking that Billy Joel bacon, yet--this thrice-divorced husband and father of two knows the growing pains of which he emotes: the splits, the tattoos, the aspirations, the adolescent freak-outs, the pals finding God through drug experiences, the old fake IDs where ex-girlfriends are, regrettably, "dressed up like the Cure."


"Late," from 2005's

Songs for Silverman


, puts the lie to the romantic myths of the tour-as-career even as it offers a poignant, intimate eulogy for the late Elliott Smith. "Elliott, man, you played a fine guitar/ And some dirty basketball," Folds admits, piano notes rippling underneath him--a steady, constant tide that belies the likelihood that Folds' own emotional turmoil could have easily set him upon a similarly final-exit course.

Last year's

Way To Normal

finds Folds as irritable and vengeful as ever--if not more so. There are excursions to linguistic regions few middle-class, middle-aged Hair Club for Men candidates dare to tread; see the rowdy breakup plaint "Bitch Went Nuts," with its slap-happy ivories and unashamed invocation of the c-word. A misbehaving pooch has a boogie-blues number dedicated to him ("Errant Dog"); a tour stop in a German city becomes the setting for a crippling bout of loneliness (the ravishingly melancholic "Cologne"). In a surprise move, Folds goes in for a duet with fellow pop-piano pugilist Regina Spektor, who's young enough to be his baby sister--and more than holds his own ("You Don't Know Me"). Indeed: Folds' downer parade keeps on truckin', even as the world at large pretends it stalled and died eons ago.

Ben Folds plays tonight at Rams Head Live. For more information visit