Sometimes a James Taylor melody can reshape even a pavilion into that special coffeehouse that sits near the center of your youth. Last night, with Taylor in strong vice at Merriweather Post, more than a few of them worked their magic.

Tall, lean and tightly muscled, working last night in a thin white shirt and creased beige chinos, Taylor stands so still as he starts to sign that the vocals seem piped through is body. He stares out to his upper left, looking dazed, almost frightened, frequently breaking into Stan Laurelish takes.

He doesn't care much for small talk or cheap stage gestures. James Taylor comes to sing.

As he does, he loosens up. Backed by three guitarists, a pianist, drummer an dsax player, he begins to whirl around sporadically on stage, driving hard in songs like "Stream-roller blues."

After a few songs last night, he beg an to talk to the crowd. They didn't stop talking back.

"Where's Carly?"

"I thought she was with you," he answered.

He asks permission to sing his songs.

He gave them "Handyman," and "Your Smiling Face," and other favorites.

Taylor saluted his new album "Flag" with scattered selections, but he didn't use them to smother his audience's desire to "turn back the pages." Finally, as promised, he closed with "Sweet Baby James."'

A few Taylor songs lag enough to drop a disco dancer in her steps but the set he played last night shifted nicely between soothing and scampering rhythms. Taylor remains too polite a performer to punish an audience for trying to robotize him. He came back for several songs, beginning in the past, with "How Sweet It Is."

Earlier when the sang "Secret O' Life," from his album "J.T.," he articulated the words precisely for the audience: "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time."

It's no secret to James Taylor. He'll be doing it again tonight and tomorrow.