When Ben Folds broke with the three-piece “Five” that bore his name, much was made of his development into a solo artist — a curious thing, given how closely he has come to duplicate that band’s sound as he’s ventured further into the single life.
At this Gotham gig, Folds — accompanied by an on-point, unobtrusive rhythm section — used the intimate confines of Town Hall to his advantage in introducing material from his new Epic album, “Songs for Silverman.” On the surface, the disc shares many of the Five’s stylistic quirks (in contrast to his first solo outing, “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” which was more of a sonic manifesto).
What’s changed, however, is Folds’ tone, which is pretty far along on the evolutionary scale from winking wiseass to suburban family guy. Most palpable on the cooing “Gracie” — a sweet ditty directed, naturally enough, at his young daughter — that regular-joe warmth also imbued the soaring “You to Thank” and (to a lesser extent) the less-bitter-than-it-seems “Bastard.”
While that maturation was in evidence through much of his lengthy set, Folds hasn’t lost touch with his inner goofball. He let that geek flag fly a number of times over the course of the evening, tossing off a purposefully uncool cover of Dr. Dre’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit” and answering a leather-lunged demand for “Free Bird” by ad-libbing a version of the tune in which “shut up” replaced the title phrase.
Aud positively ate up Folds’ forays into his back catalog — particularly an affably unkempt take on the rarely performed “Boxing” — but grew a bit antsy during newer, more minimal pieces. A fair amount of the set was performed without accompaniment, but when Folds expanded songs recorded that way — like “Rockin’ the Suburbs” — the results were far more arresting.
Ben Folds and Rufus Wainwright will tour together this summer, with stops in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Aug. 4 and L.A.’s Wiltern Theater Aug. 18-19.