Much of Ben Folds Five's work was influenced by jazz, evident in frequent improv-styled passages through bridge and/or ending. During their seven years together, the band released three proper studio records, one retrospective album of B-sides & outtakes, and eight singles. They also contributed to a number of soundtracks and compilations. Ben Folds Five disbanded in October 2000, apparently under amicable circumstances.
The group reunited for a one-off concert on September 18, 2008, where they played their final album, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, in its entirety.
Ben Folds Five was formed in 1993 in Chapel Hill by Ben Folds. They were, in fact, a trio in spite of their name, and the primary motivation behind the name, apart from the band's well-known use of humor, was simple preference, according to Ben: "I think it sounds better than Ben Folds Three". Folds once described their music as "punk rock for sissies", a reaction to the angst prevalent in 90s rock.
Their first radio single was "Underground" from their self-titled debut album, released in 1995 on Caroline records. The band's biggest success was the single "Brick" from their second album, Whatever and Ever Amen, released in 1997. It was followed by the more somber and jazz-based 1999 album, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner. Despite a more somber record in Reinhold Messner album, live shows continued to pack in the energy and improvisation that Ben Folds Five had grown to have quite a reputation for.
The group contributed an outtake from the Reinhold Messner sessions, titled "Leather Jacket", to the 1999 benefit album, No Boundaries: A Benefit for the Kosovar Refugees. The band's final recording was a cover of Steely Dan's "Barrytown" for the Me, Myself & Irene soundtrack. Following the worldwide tour in support of The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, the band "amicably" broke up in October 2000.
Folds went on to pursue a successful solo career, releasing Rockin the Suburbs in 2001, Songs for Silverman in 2005, and a new album, Way to Normal, was released September 30, 2008. Darren Jessee went on to form the acclaimed indie band Hotel Lights, releasing their self-titled debut album in 2005 on Bar/None Records, Goodnightgoodmorning in 2006, and Firecracker People on August 19th, 2008. Robert Sledge soon after took up singing, shared song-writing and bass playing duties with International Orange, but the group disbanded in 2005. On September 13, 2008 the debut show of seemingly new project The BobSledge Band played at Mansion 462, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Ben Folds Five made its first concert appearance in about 8 years on September 18, 2008 at the UNC Memorial Hall in Chapel Hill. The event was described by Triangle Music as the coming together of "the now legendary hometown group Ben Folds Five" which reunited for a one-off show. The one-off gig was part of the MySpace "Front to Back" series, in which artists play an entire album live. The band played its final album, The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, and were briefly joined on stage by Ben's father, Dean Folds, who read a transcript of his voice mail message that is used in the album song 'Your Most Valuable Possession.' Beginning October 23rd, a video of the entire concert is being streamed on MySpace. All proceeds from ticket sales benefitted the charity Operation Smile.