MANSFIELD — In this 50th anniversary year of the Beatles' arrival in the United States, it's curious to think that perhaps the performer who currently experiences most of what they experienced at the height of Beatlemania is Jimmy Buffett.
As happened with the moptops, fans don't seem to come to a Buffett concert for the music so much as for the ritual. Saturday at the Xfinity Center, there was tailgating, beachball-thwacking and head-fin tilting. Oh, and there were some songs, too.
Being somewhat incidental to his own happening should be old hat by now to Buffett, but if the man is bemused by what unfolds before him as he sings his songs of coastal leisure, he never showed it. Despite being the nominal ringmaster, he essentially let the audience run its own circus. Everything about Buffett himself was unassuming, from his voice to his casual beachwear to his jokes, which includes such eyeroll-worthy dadisms as naming a nonexistent Maine volcano "Mt. Lobsteramus."
As for the music itself, Buffett had his usual two modes: reflective and it's party time! The latter provided the watered-down calypso of "Volcano," the honky-tonk two-step of "My Head Hurts My Feet Stink And I Don't Love Jesus" and the loping country whine of "Why Don't We Get Drunk." The size and bombast of the band washed out any hint of subtlety, but it greatly aided "Southern Cross," whose five-guitar, seven-voice attack built up a charging gallop.
But Buffett's best music-making came from more introspective songs like "Son of a Son of a Sailor," "Come Monday," and "Bama Breeze," which was wistful but with a smile. Buffett delivered his most expressive vocal of the night with the soft, melancholic "He Went to Paris," and "Lovely Cruise" closed the show with each band member exiting the stage one by one, finally leaving Buffett to finish the song alone with his resonator guitar.
Mostly, though, Buffett fronted the world's most successful cabana band whose charms, for all their modesty, were put in sharp relief with a lousy original song performed by Brendan Mayer, who earned the spotlight by virtue of being Buffett's guitarist's son. It was mindlessly chipper, with a shallow everybody-chill message, and it showed that pulling off what Buffett does isn't as easy as it seems.
Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @spacecitymarc.