ben folds five

GIG REVIEW: Ben Folds Five @ Brixton Academy

5 December 2012

Five?! False advertising. I want my money back!I’ve always said that, in The Lightyears, one of the few bands we all agree on is Ben Folds Five. There are obvious influences like The Beatles and Queen that we have in common, of course, but no band has permeated our sound more convincingly than this quirky piano-led trio from North Carolina (you can hear this particularly strongly in our live version of Don’t Do It At The Hollywood from 2004).

When Ben Folds Five announced a reunion tour earlier this year, I was first in line. It’s been thirteen years since they last performed together, thirteen years since I stood open-mouthed in front of the stage watching Ben pound the living crap out of his piano and thought: ‘You are the truth, the way and the light. Mould me in your image’.

On Tuesday night, the Brixton Academy was predictably populated with a crowd of beardy, knowing, Guardian-reading, ironic t-shirt wearing thirty-somethings all secretly sizing each other up to determine who had the most penetrative knowledge of limited release Ben Folds Five Japanese vinyls. Excitement grew as we waited for the band to hit the stage, the collective patience of four thousand die-hard fans about to burst at the seams under the spinning stage lights. Everyone speculated over what their first track would be. To be honest, while I personally would have come out all guns blazing with something like sophomore album-opener One Angry Dwarf, I half-expected the famously obtuse geek-chic rockers to kick off with an album track from their relatively unknown 2012 release simply as a way of saying ‘screw you, we’re not just here to play the hits’.

What actually happened was that they kicked off with an album track from their relatively unknown 2012 release simply as a way of saying ‘screw you, we’re not just here to play the hits’. Didn’t really work for me to be honest, but hey – I, like everyone else, was still reeling from the heady impact of seeing Darren, Robert and Ben together again, and ultimately didn’t really give a rat’s ass. This also helped to distract from the disappointingly woolly sound in the Academy, which in my opinion is pretty inexcusable in such an important venue. A band like BF5 can’t just rely on being loud like their shouty guitar-led counterparts – if you can’t actually hear the piano, the whole thing’s pointless.

The band started slowly, almost cautiously, as if deliberately making us wait for The Really Good Stuff. The Songs We All Came To Hear. But by the half-hour mark, things were beginning to loosen up, the soundman had finally joined the party and the nostalgia fest was in full swing. Uncle Walter had everyone bopping like mad, Ben made a nod at his solo career with a rendition of Landed, and the band’s best-known song Brick inspired mass singalong. But it was the closing holy trinity of Song For The Dumped, Kate and Underground that really sealed the deal. We were all in late nineties heaven. Underground begins with the lyric ‘I was never cool in school, I’m sure you don’t remember me’, a line which prompted in return a giant chorus of ‘Who the fuck are you?!’ from the auditorium. This was a collective reference to the moment in the semi-obscure live version of Underground in which a single person shouts this precise line back at them from the crowd, and I think was our way of saying ‘not everyone knows who you are, and we like that, because it confirms we’re clever and sophisticated and the rest of the world, those idiots out there, are just big fat idiots’ (or words to that effect).

This was not a gig for the uninitiated. Ben Folds Five are an acquired taste; they’re very much the Dandelion & Burdock of the music world. If you weren’t there first time round, chances are you’re going to struggle. By the third song, a woman standing next to me was playing Sudoku on her smartphone. I judged her severely for this, obviously, but to be fair I think she was the kind of BF5 rookie who halfway through the gig was still trying to figure out why there’s only three of them.

As reunion gigs go, you couldn’t have asked for anything better. You only had to watch Ben ‘conducting’ the crowd as we sang the brass-parts in closing number Army (which, by the way, he didn’t have to ask us to do – WE JUST KNEW) to appreciate the massive amount of love in the room for this truly unique band. Most people haven’t heard of them, and never will, and BF5 fans like it that way. Even if it is another thirteen years before we get to see them again.

Piano-led bands of the world… unite!

2 October 2012

The LYs busking in the early days. Note former bassist Tom Mansfield on the right, who later mysteriously disappeared shortly before Tony premiered his new eco-friendly, organic drum-skins. You do the math.Those original geek-chic piano rockers Ben Folds Five have reformed and released a new album.

This is exciting news for me, and if you haven’t heard of Ben Folds Five but you’re a fan of The Lightyears then it’s probably rather exciting news for you too – because it means I’m introducing you to a band you’re really going to like (try this track to start you off – “Philosophy” from their eponymous debut album, live on Jools Holland).

I’d been playing piano for nearly ten years when I was introduced to Ben Folds Five by our school-days drummer Alan Oldfield (the first in our worryingly long line of herbivore drummers). At that point, everything changed. Suddenly playing the piano wasn’t about respectfully tinkling the ivories and staring wanly off into the distance anymore – it was about kicking the living shit out of it. I started bouncing around and smashing the keys with my fists and, at gigs, developed a habit of leaping onto my piano from a great height at moments of musical climax.

For a long time I basically just wanted The Lightyears to be Ben Folds Five. This is generally how being in a band works – kids get into music, learn an instrument and then assemble a group of their mates in an attempt to exactly replicate their favourite bands. In truth, Ben Folds Five were one of the few influences that we agreed on in the early days (Tony’s long-time love of Cream didn’t mix so well with mine and George’s Bon Jovi obsession), which is probably why we ended up sounding a bit like them.

Anyhow, I was kicking around the internet the other day and discovered this rare and untouched live recording from an early Lightyears gig at the 12 Bar Club, circa 2004. The 12 Bar Club features prominently in my Lightyears novel, Mockstars, and was a favourite haunt of ours for some years. This track, “Don’t Do It At The Hollywood”, particularly struck me because it’s clear I was very much caught in the clutches of my ‘wishing I was Ben Folds’ stage. It’s pretty scrappy but a lot of fun, and features former LYs member Tom Mansfield on the bass guitar.

USA Tour starts this week!

30 June 2010

George maxing and relaxing in NYC, circa 2008.Our fifth American tour starts this Thursday 15 July at Union Square in New York. Here’s a full rundown of the venues we’re playing:

Thursday 15 July: UNION SQUARE, New York NY
This will be our third year headlining at the Union Square Summer Concert Series in Manhattan. Recent years have seen crowds of thousands and, thanks to the prime location right in the centre of New York, it’s the ideal way to spend a late afternoon in the Big Apple. ENTRY IS FREE!

We’re very excited to return to Burlington for the second year running. Burlington has an impressive amphitheatre and promises to host a fine evening of entertainment. Never fear – if it rains, the show will go on (it’ll be moved to an indoor theatre next door). ENTRY IS FREE!

Saturday 17 July: BLOCKLEY POURHOUSE, Philadelphia PA. BUY TICKETS HERE!
**THIS SHOW IS NOW ALL AGES!!** Our big Saturday night headline gig (and our only appearance in Philadelphia this summer) is at the awesome Blockley Pourhouse on Chestnut Street. The Blockley is a brand-new, state-of-the-art venue built on the site of an old asylum. Which is pretty wacky. Get your tickets here – just $7 advance!

Sunday 18 July: THE SAINT, Asbury Park NJ. BUY TICKETS HERE!
We’ll be seeing out the weekend at The Saint on Main Street, Asbury Park. Previous performers at this venue include Ben Folds Five, Lost Prophets, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and The Dandy Warhols. Tickets on sale here! Also performing are local band Root Glen + special guests.

Thursday 22 July: ASTORIA PARK, New York NY
The tour comes to a close back in New York on 22 July at Astoria Park. We’ll be playing an hour and half’s set, so plenty of time to kick back with a massive Dr Pepper from Taco Bell and maybe even a tasty picnic. ENTRY IS FREE!

Full details on the GIGS page.

To hear us on the radio in your area, request the LYs below!

– Kathy Romano on WMMR (Bala Cynwyd, PA): REQUEST THE LYs HERE
– Bonnie Hart on WBZC “The Pulse” (Pemberton, NJ): REQUEST THE LYs HERE
WKDU 97.1FM (Philadelphia, PA): REQUEST THE LYs HERE

My very own Rock Supergroup

20 March 2009

Writing consecutive blogs about Guns N Roses and Michael Jackson has got me thinking about my rock supergroup. To be taken seriously in muso circles, every self-respecting, self-aggrandising rock fan should have their own supergroup, just as they really ought to be able to reel off their Top Five “Track One Side Ones”*** on request.

I’ll cut to the chase. Whilst I’m on the subject of MJ and GnR, the King Of Pop (circa 1987) would take on vocal duties whilst Slash would provide lead guitar. As tempted as I would be to include Axl in the line-up as well, I believe that supergroup regulations forbid any two members to have come from the same original band and, in any case, you can’t have two frontmen. Well, unless you’re The Beatles. Or The Libertines. Anyhow, I digress. Since the band would OBVIOUSLY be piano-led, I’d have to employ Jerry Lee Lewis on the ivories and have Ben Folds waiting in the wings to fill his shoes when the inevitable happens. Tim Commerford from Rage Against The Machine would play bass and Zeppelin‘s John Bonham (resurrected) would be my stick-man.

And so, I hear you cry, what kind of music would this pure pop/hard rock/hip-hop metal fusion/50s throwback leviathan pump out? Well, exactly that – heavy riffing, face-melting, boogie woogie hook-laden pop with wicked dance moves.

And I shall call them “Dangerous Killing In The Name Of A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On Heaven’s Door” (yes, it works).

Coming to a stadium near you.

Chris Lightyear

ps. please do comment back with your own supergroups and we’ll see if we can out-do each other like Top Trumps.

*** “Black Dog” from Led Zeppelin IV, “Taxman” from Revolver, “Jackson Cannery” from Ben Folds Five, “La Breeze” from Simian’s We Are Your Friends and “Slam” from Pendulum’s Hold Your Colour (if you discount the 53-second opening prelude, which for these purposes I do)

The Lightyears’ Family Tree

19 January 2009

Today, to mark the release of our new album London, England, I thought I’d attempt the impossible – to figure out where the heck it is that The Lightyears come from. 

People always ask musicians “Who are your influences?”, and musicians tend to answer with long, protracted diatribes about rare Frank Zappa B-sides and unreleased Captain Beefheart LPs that leave normal people reeling.

From now on then, when people ask me that question, I can simply refer them to this article.

Essentially I’m talking about a musical family tree. Who are our musical forefathers, our rock ancestors, our guitar-strumming, key-bashing, stick-wielding predecessors? 

To answer this question, we must begin at the beginning… 

It is 1994. Everybody’s dressed in inexplicably baggy t-shirts and careering round the playground bellowing Harry Enfield catchphrases at each other. I am still struggling to crack the mysterious phenomenon of the Magic Eye picture (“No, I can’t see a bloody dolphin in there! What do you mean look through it?”) and Les Dennis is still considered entertaining. Most importantly, soft-rock overlords Bon Jovi have taken George and I by the scruff of our tiny, grubby necks and, charmingly, have inspired us to start our own band.

George and I bonded over a mutual love of Bon Jovi. Mainly I think George encouraged this to distract me from Pantera and I, in turn, did so to distract him from Chris De Burgh. In hindsight, I think we can probably both agree that this was a very smart move.

Elsewhere, in Reigate, Surrey, Tony is diligently studying old Cream LPs and dreaming of one day smoking a cigar with Ginger Baker. Stoically anti-fashion, he spurns the bands everyone else is into and in doing so paves the way for a lifetime of shameless contrariness.

When the two worlds collide and The Lightyears (née Satellite) are formed, cheesey-nice-boy hair-rock goes head-to-head with pretentious prog-rock in a terrible battle for supremacy.

The resulting war of musical prejudices plays out something like this:

(Disclaimer 1: Rock Genealogy is not an exact science. I may have taken a few liberties here.) 

(Disclaimer 2: our biggest single collective inspiration is probably The Beatles but I haven’t included them in the tree on account of the fact that bands citing the Fab Four as an influence is a bit like a chef saying he’s influenced by salt and pepper.)

Bugger. Just realised I missed out Blur. And The Small Faces.

Well, it’ll have to do for now. To avoid unnecessary debate, this diagram is not designed to be chronologically accurate – it simply traces the course of our tastes in music. If you’re particularly anal you may enjoy some of the logical segues – take Ben Folds Five into Jerry Lee Lewis, for example, or Counting Crows into Death Cab For Cutie – and I hope that, by the same token, you will ignore some of the absurd non-sequiturs (nobody goes direct from Funkadelic to Dodgy, I mean that’s just silly. Problem is, drawing all those little lines took ages and, well, it’s not like I don’t have other important stuff to do).

Speaking of which, my tax return is staring at me from across the room like a dreadful paper Sauron. “I seeeeeee you…”, it’s saying. Yeah whatever. You’re not the boss of me, Tax Return. 

Later kids!

Chris Lightyear