Ben Folds is a creative man. On Wednesday night I’d been at The Richard Goodall Gallery in Manchester city centre for the opening of his first ever photography exhibition where his shots of everything from William Shatner to his pneumonia ridden self portrait captured the subjects’ emotions effortlessly. One night later and I was at the O2 Apollo waiting for him, Robert Sledge and Darren Jessee to grace the stage.
An unassuming trio, the stage was bare apart from their array of instruments. They needed no fancy accompaniments to bring their music to life. Opening with Michael Praytor Five Years Later from their new release, it was clear the multigenerational audience were having a good time. Whether songs were from the new crowdfunded album or dated back to the 90s, the fans immediately recognised them.
Sledge’s unique style of dancing was laughed at in Draw A Crowd, and then inspired a brilliant version Rock This Bitch. The improvised track was also used to plug his photo exhibition before being reprised to talk about the band’s favourite football teams and then returning back to the subject of Sledge once more.
Playing the piano almost constantly for the two hour set, Folds nearly knew his back catalogue inside out. Bar a momentary lapse in knowledge of the lyrics in Do It Anyway – swiftly sung as “Forget it anyway” – that is.
There were clear crowd favourites in the set; Brick was never going to disappoint and the live show added new layers to Narcolepsy and Army. When the band eventually left the stage after an hour and three quarters, it didn’t take long for them to reappear with a ‘surprise’ encore of Kate and One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces.
Having originally broken up in 2000, Ben Folds Five looked as at home as ever playing together again. In fact, there were moments when you could see their youthful spirit shining through. They aren’t proper rockstars – even Folds throwing a chair into the piano at the end of the night couldn’t change my perception of this – but they are something much more. They are creatives. And I reckon that’s what a lot more people should be aspiring to become.