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Getting in on the first floor with bands on the rise

By Joel Rosenberg
Staff Reporter

Ben Folds Five

5/27 The Paradise

5/28 Lupo's

Being right is bittersweet. It's really great seeing a band you liked before everyone else making it big, and knowing that it's everyone else jumping on the bandwagon and not you. And yet, when the others start jumping on you at the concert, you question why you wanted everyone else there.

A bit of moshing never stopped me before, though, and Ben Folds Five gave two great shows two nights in a row in the greater Boston area. Having just come back from Japan where they had been for a few weeks, Ben complained about jet lag but showed his wear very little.

Their following has grown considerably since their second album, Whatever and Ever Amen, especially given the airplay their single "Battle of Who Could Care Less" has received. The Paradise was mixed with old fans and new as Folds, drummer Darren Jesse, and bassist Robert Sledge kicked through a nice selection from their old and new albums.

In Providence the next night, despite Lupo's goons clad in obnoxious red t-shirts around, the all-ages crowd got a bit rowdier and more obnoxious than they had been the night before. The mood was perhaps justifiable after one of the worst opening acts in history, Bettie Seviert, who played for an hour and something like 15 songs to boos as they started each song. Things were made more bearable by Ben's antics, screaming through a heavy metal parody "The Ultimate Sacrifice," and a nice cover of "She Don't Use Jelly."

I actually got to meet Ben before the Boston show, and besides some talk about the tour, I asked him who's taking the bong hit on "Uncle Walter." He thought about it for a second, and said, "I'm not sure. It was one of the other two - one did the honors, the other did the hit."

They're going to be playing New York's Summerstage in Central Park on June 25 with Morphine and Pharaoh Sanders (I think this one's gonna involve some $$, however), and they're joining an Incredible HORDE tour in July, which will make its way to Great Woods on August 8 (see schedule for details). They're just going to get bigger.

Squirrel Nut Zippers

4/4 The Roxy

It has been a big year for Chapel Hill, N.C. bands, as the Squirrel Nut Zippers have exploded onto the scene right along with Ben Fold Fives.Before New Years I had never heard of them, and now they're appearing on Letterman, being played to death on the air ("Hell," that 1920s sounding jazz tune about Satan), and joining HORDE. as well. They came around recently and packed the Roxy, a really nice, really big, somewhat cheesy, really perfect venue for this group.

These guys have a great recorded sound, and a live sound that makes you feel like you're in a Maxell commercial. Frontman Jim Mathus has the entertaining ability of Harry Connick, Jr. on stage, a compliment not given out lightly. Katherine Whalen, the lone female of the band, makes you want to go up to her when her act is done and say, "What's a nice dame like you doing in a dive like this?" as you sip your whiskey on the rocks and smoke a big cigar, whose smell lingers on your tuxedo (tails, of course). This group emanates class and style, which they play perfectly. Bassist Don Raleigh spins his upright in suspenders and a fedora, Ken Mosher keeps his cigarette burning in the neck of his sax, and drummer Chris Phillips could be stoned out of his skull for all you know, banging the skins like a track in the back. Tom Maxwell helps out entertaining the crowd with Jimbo, and also plays a mean guitar and bari-sax.

The Nut Zippers are unbelievable, and if you have the means, they're one of the best stage bands I've ever seen. They fully explain why the 20s were roaring and jazz used to be mainstream. They'll also clue you in to why everyone should know how to swing dance. Try to find them this summer if you can. Otherwise, they'll be back. They're not going anywhere soon.

THey Might Be Giants

4/5 Avalon

TMGB are by no means a new band, but a good show deserves a word just the same.

Any true TMBG fan should have been at Avalon on April 5th. Perhaps in honor of Flansburg's heritage, perhaps because they needed some place to do it (they repeated the feat twice at the end of the month in Chicago), they graced Boston with a show celebrating the release of their two-CD re-release of their first three albums and some bonus tracks, entitled Then: The Early Years.

After an odd, very appropriate opening solo act Brian Dewan, just the Johns came out for a complete first set accompanied by a tape track, something they haven't really done since Flood came out in 1990. They played a bunch of songs they hardly ever play anymore, including "Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head," "Youth Culture Killed My Dog," "Ana Ng," "Cowtown," and "I'll Sink Manhattan." They truly know their audience, and know just how to work them. I felt privileged to have seen this first set.

They brought the band on for a really good second set, which had stuff from newer albums, especially Factory Showroom (which is better than John Henry and a really good disc). They played the standards like "Particle Man" and "Istanbul," got the crowd rocking with "Shoehorn with Teeth" (they put their stage manager or someone on glockenspiel, which he covered beautifully), and finished with an amazing encore that included a full-Avalon conga line (Flansburg challenged everyone to join in) and an inspired "Dig My Grave" so that everyone would leave sweaty and tired, discussing the chaos that would be involved with a fire at Avalon. A very fulfilling musical night by a niche band that everyone should include in their collection.