Jesse Colin Young concentrated on new material in the first of two evenings at the Wax Museum last night, but what appeared as studio-bound, commercial caution on vinyl was happily replaced by a soaring exuberance in performance that was anchored in Young's still-classic bittersweet high tenor. A few well-chosen oldies -- "High on a Ridgetop," "Miss Hesitation," "Song for Juli," "Darkness, Darkness" and the anthemic "Get Together" -- retained the bluesy lilt and light, jazzy swing made distinctive in the '60s by the Youngbloods. Propelled by pianist Scott Lawrence's bold embellishments and guitarist Stephan Birnbaum's stinging leads, these songs seemed looser around the edges, heartfelt rather than artfelt.
Young, of course, recently caught Christopher Cross-itis, a strain of Michael McDonald influenza prevalent in California rock. The difference between old graces and new calculations is the difference between Marin County and Los Angeles, between barefoot comfort and sandaled fashion. New songs like "Perfect Stranger," "Ophelia" and "The Edge" are commercially sound but seem more studied, almost prefabricated. Young's passionate delivery salvaged them; his style of California soul singing is on a par with McDonald or Cross or Kenny Loggins, though its roots go deeper. Of course, California soul is to soul what California wine is to wine -- enough shots have a cumulative effect, but the old wine sounded better pouring out of the old bottle.
Young returns tonight.