Paul Shaffer may have been shaking inside with nostalgia last night, but it never showed on stage. The snappy dresser and definitive leader of what he proclaims to be the “World's Most Dangerous Band" was on familiar turf.

Even though it hasn’t been that long since Paul Schaffer walked the halls of the Ed Sullivan Theater, it probably felt like a return to high school for a 50th reunion. He knew he had been there for 33 years, but everything looks different now. There is a swirling stained-glass motif in the ceiling now, a whole new color scheme of red, white and blue on the stage set, and there is a different bespectacled host behind the desk.

Instead of the now white-bearded David Letterman, known for dishing out his disregards to almost everyone as he tossed his cards of talking points sitting behind the desk, it is the dark-haired Stephen Colbert steering his own ship on “The Late Show.” Surroundings certainly had changed, but Paul Shaffer felt nothing but love on his return to his musical stomping grounds.

Soaking it all in

There was almost a reverence in the reception that Paul Shaffer received as he came to take his seat next to the desk of Stephen Colbert. The band leader offered smiles, a mimic of tossing it back, and even humble bows to the crowd who just kept clapping. There is a respect among musicians that is unspoken and deeper than most public tributes, and Jon Batiste and company were letting the tributes flow.

“Man, does it feel good to hear that song in this theater again,” gushed Colbert as Shaffer’s theme song rang out. Paul playfully poked back to the new man in charge that “you have taken that income out of the mouths of my children.” Meanwhile, Shaffer admitted that seeing the current band and the place where the host reigns being transposed was “a little like being on acid.”

Paul Shaffer heaped praise on Jon Batiste and Stay Human, too, calling them “Hippest Band in All the Land.” He complimented the prodigious jazz pianist for “the best noodling” across the keys that anyone could hear, from Bach to McCoy Tyner.

“It’s healthier now,” said Shaffer of his life these days, being “not so wound up” as when he did 500+ hours of performance a year to be televised. Nonetheless, every musician is always ready to play, and Paul got a call to make an album with his old band, so he brought them all together to do an album under the name he gave them, and they are out on tour for selected dates.

Feel-good soul

Paul Shaffer was pleased as punch to prove that he hadn’t lost a smidge of his musical timing or his passion for performance. Valerie Simpson of Ashford and Simpson strolled onstage to join Paul for “Ain't No Mountain High Enough” One treasure was seeing Jon Batiste and his beaming smile as he provided backup on keyboards for the gravel-voiced Paul and the soul songwriter who never loses pitch.

Simpson took a seat beside Shaffer on the piano bench to play, and the simpatico between these music greats was infectiously joyful. Moments like these don’t come every day to television, even with a genuine proponent and aficionado of the diversity and gift of music such as Stephen Colbert. Paul Shaffer and company showed themselves worthy of their auspicious description, and everyone watching went off to bed with soul in their slippers.