South Carolina's Marshall Tucker Band seemed to have lost its inspiration after the 1980 death of founding bassist Tommy Caldwell. But last night they obviously had recovered that spark as they put on the best of their many shows at the Merriweather Post Pavilion. The band's sometimes sluggish rhythm section had been quickened and sharpened by new pianist Ronny Godfrey and new bassist Franklin Wilkie. Guitarist Toy Caldwell and reed player Jerry Eubanks have matured over the years into exceptional soloists. Doug Gray has become one of the finest country singers in a rock band.

The band gave its country-tilting songs, such as "This Old Cowboy," a breezy swing. Gray gave the high plaintive notes a willowy warble, and Caldwell answered the vocals with singing guitar phrases. The rock-tilting tunes like "Take the Highway" were leavened with rhythm & blues boogie. Eubanks' sax and flute solos not only added an unusual color to the country songs, but gave the rock songs a strong, grainy second voice. The band did indulge itself in some overly long and shapeless jams, but redeemed itself by showcasing its new single, a rollicking uptempo version of Randy Newman's "Mr. President (have pity on the working man)."

Opening act Gary U.S. Bonds canceled when the singer failed to arrive due to unexplained transportation problems, even though his band was there waiting for him.