It sure might have looked weird on paper, but Sheryl Crow choosing Toots and the Maytals and James Blunt as her opening acts for her 2008 tour was actually a brilliant move.
For one thing, all three write incredibly catchy material, and all three appeal to roughly the same kind of audience. And at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center Thursday night, the bill couldn’t have been more perfect for anyone looking for a summer evening to get away from it all.
You could tell Crow knew this, gearing her set heavily towards laid-back, uptempo numbers such as “Love is Free” and “Leaving Las Vegas.” Even the stage lights, glowing a warm, inviting yellow, were reminiscent of a sunny day at the beach.
She began her set with a solo run through of “God Bless This Mess,” off her 2008 album “Detours,” but the show quickly picked up. Early highlights included the mellow grooves of “Can’t Cry Anymore” and the aforementioned “Love is Free,” but the set really started to pick up at about the halfway point with “My Favorite Mistake.” “There Goes the Neighborhood” offered her band a chance to show off its muscles on a powerful blues rocker, with guitarists Tim Smith and Peter Stroud standing out in particular.
The only real dull moment was “Gasoline,” an overly long political number with a chorus that suggested that “gasoline will be free.” The performance was as energetic as ever, but the song’s numerous tempo changes and false stops tended to make it drag, especially when compared to Crow’s more concise pop hits.
Perhaps the sleeper number of the evening, “Wildflower” showcased Crow’s tender side, stripping her band back to acoustic guitars and synthesized strings. The shimmering beauty of the song stood in stark contrast to the evening’s sunnier, poppier tunes.
If anyone on this eclectic bill could be considered the odd man out, it was James Blunt, who took the stage second, right before Crow. But his boundless energy was a pleasant surprise, especially given his low-key set. During the set’s centerpiece, a vamped-out run-through of Slade’s “Coz I Luv You,” Blunt proved his love for his audience, jumping offstage and running up and down the ramps, kissing a random audience member and making his way through the assembled throngs out on the lawn.
The set lagged ever so slightly in the middle, as Blunt pushed his most upbeat material to the front and rear. Nonetheless, Blunt’s tenor was perfectly suited to moody ballads such as “Carry You Home” and “Goodbye My Lover,” which showcased Blunt’s skill on a solo piano.
Toots and the Maytals jump-started the audience with a lively reggae set straight out of the early ’70s. You could practically feel the Jamaican sun emanating from the stage as the band launched into its set.
Frontman Frederick “Toots” Hibbert was the star here, hooting and hollering at a moment’s notice, then settling back in to a soulful croon on numbers such as “54-46 That’s My Number.” Earlier in the set, Hibbert got the audience shouting along on “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” with its call and response, “Everybody say ‘yeah!’ ” bridge.
Hibbert later joined Crow onstage for the final encore number, “Higher Ground,” bridging the gap between his sunny reggae and Crow’s equally sunny pop.