Another new year quietly began this morning, and as I cleared the snow off of my porch here in Bootleg City, I was feeling quite reflective. I came back into the house, turned the stereo on, inserted a special disc, and turned the volume up, perhaps a little bit louder than it should have been at a time of the morning that was still early for some. (Three o’clock is early for anybody, moron! —Mayor Cass) Today’s selection: a choice early radio appearance and performance by Ben Folds Five.

Certain moments stick with you, like the first time you heard or found out about a particular band. In the case of Ben Folds Five, my intro was via the radio station I had just started working at in Cleveland.

As the new guy, I was farther down the totem pole than the lowest man on it, but Doug, the music director at the station, had taken a liking to me (or tolerated me, at least). I was somewhat star-struck by many of the DJs at the station, but Doug was the one who had been my favorite DJ in my late teens. I would often listen to him on Sunday afternoons while driving around the Cleveland suburb of Strongsville delivering pizza. Of course, to him it was just another air shift that probably saved him the effort of having to fill the hole in the schedule with another DJ. Hardly the stuff idols are made of, at least to Doug.

He found enjoyment in making fun of my musical taste, and when he’d receive a CD from a band he perceived as crappy, he’d call me in and say, “I’ve got something for you. This is another one of those shitty bands you like.” My love for Del Amitri was one of Doug’s favorite targets of ridicule. But deep down he knew I ate, drank, and slept music — as long as it didn’t get in the way of going to a concert or enjoying other music-related activities.

Enter Ben Folds Five. Doug called me into his office and told me there was something I had to hear, a band I would really appreciate. He hit “play” on the stereo, and the sounds of Ben Folds Five’s Caroline Records debut came streaming through the speakers as he told me about the band, a new North Carolina-based trio featuring Ben Folds, the piano-playing and -pounding namesake of the trio, out front and center as the leader of the group. I loved his Rundgren/Elton-esque vocals; the Five, who were actually only three, were certainly different than anything else on the radio in 1995.

That fall they were out playing dates on their first national tour and Cleveland got one of the early shows, although the trio found themselves on a bill that was probably a little different than the ones they were on in other cities. Columbus, Ohio, jam band É™koostik hookah were booked at the Odeon Concert Club for their annual Halloween show, and local promoter Belkin Productions grabbed Ben Folds Five at the eleventh hour to be the opener.

The Belkin staff clearly didn’t want to pass on the chance to book a Cleveland show featuring BF5, who were gaining large amounts of buzz with each passing day. They scrambled to secure the band some last-minute radio promotion for the concert so that Clevelanders, who had already been hearing “Underground,” the band’s musical ode to perpetual unpopularity, on the radio, would know that the Five were in town.

A sold-out crowd of mostly dirty hippies (c’mon, I had to) as well as a number of Folds-curious music fans were in attendance that night for the Cleveland debut of Ben Folds Five. In their 45 minutes onstage the group didn’t disappoint, running through a stunning set that featured most if not all of the songs from their album. It was one of those knockout-punch shows I’d never see them top — they broke up five years and two albums later — and while I can’t speak for the rest of the crowd, most of whom were, um, “medicated,” it was certainly a special show, whether everyone who attended realized it or not.

Five months later Ben Folds Five made an appearance on Vin Scelsa’s Sunday Night, the retitled version of the New York radio legend’s long-running Idiot’s Delight program, which had recently moved from WXRK, otherwise known as K-Rock, to WNEW. Scelsa reclaimed the rights to the Idiot’s Delight title later in ’96, but for legal reasons his early WNEW shows used the alternate Sunday Night title.

For those who are unfamiliar with Scelsa, he truly is one of the last great old-school radio guys still broadcasting, and one of the most passionate disc jockeys and music fans you’ll ever come across. His interviewing style is truly unique; while some casual music fans might consider his conversations with his guests in between the live performances to be endless rambling, true music junkies can’t get enough.

This particular broadcast is notable for featuring Ben Folds Five’s cover of “Crosstown Traffic” as well as early versions of a couple of tracks that would eventually surface on the band’s next album, Whatever and Ever Amen, which the band promoted on Scelsa’s show in April of ’97. Perhaps we’ll have to share that performance/interview here in Bootleg City sometime soon. But for now, enjoy this classic radio performance from Ben Folds Five!

If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a bit of work to do — it seems my good friend Mayor Cass thought it would be funny to dispatch a few of the city dump trucks to my house to unload giant, heaping piles of snow in my previously cleared driveway. (It was totally worth the $500 bribe it took to get those guys out of bed at three in the morning! —MC)

You might think I’d be upset, but actually the opposite is true. You see, I’m going to do my part to “be excellent” to my former adversary — I’m going to go to his house and offer to take him out for breakfast. (Whaaaaaa? —MC) I’ll admit that this goes against our previous policy of mutual assured destruction, but that’s what’s great about New Year’s Day — it’s the beginning of a whole new year full of possibilities, and a fresh chance to start anew.

Happy New Year to you all!

Best Imitation of Myself
[interview #1]
Where’s Summer B.?
[interview #2]
Alice Childress
[interview #3]
Jackson Cannery
[interview #4]
[interview #5]
[interview #6]
Uncle Walter
[interview #7]
One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces
[interview #8]
Steven’s Last Night in Town
[interview #9]
Crosstown Traffic
[interview #10]
Video Killed the Radio Star
[interview #11]

About the Author

Matt Wardlaw

Matt Wardlaw is a music lifer with nearly 20 years of experience in the industry. Of course you all have shoes older than that, but that's okay, Matt realizes that he's still a rookie. His byline has appeared in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), Cleveland Scene, Blogcritics, Music's Bottom Line and Ultimate Classic Rock, among others. In addition to writing for Popdose, Matt also has his own music blog called Addicted to Vinyl where he writes about a variety of subjects including but not limited to vinyl. In his spare time, Matt enjoys long walks in the park, Cherone-era Van Halen and driving long distances to Night Ranger concerts.

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