There's always been a family feel to an Arlo Guthrie concert. Part of that comes from the connection he's developed with fans who've been coming to see him since the days of "Alice's Restaurant" (which Guthrie did not do at The Hall -- probably saving it for his "homecoming concert" in Pittsfield a few days later). But a good chunk of the familial atmosphere comes from Arlo's rapport with the people he's playing with‚ and that was undeniable at this show.
There was his longtime drummer Terry A La Berry (who's lost enough weight to make Jared look like a slacker); there were the other members of Arlo's backup band‚ most of whom also live in the Berkshires; there were the Burns Sisters‚ a delightful vocal trio that Guthrie had met on a benefit tour for Katrina relief; and there was Arlo's son and engineer Abe Guthrie‚ who not only plays pretty good keyboards‚ but is almost a dead-ringer for Arlo in past days. With all these ingredients‚ this wasn't as much a show as it was Old Home Week -- for the band and the fans.
Arlo still covers almost every musical base. His roots remain in rock and folk music‚ and the Woody Guthrie songbook is still a touchstone -- even more so now that (thanks to hard work by Abe) the long-delayed Woody tribute Arlo did with the Dillards‚ 32¢ Postage Due‚ has finally been released. But Arlo's always touched plenty of other genres‚ and this night was no exception: "St. James Infirmary" was as dark and ragtime as it ought to be; we got old-time blues from Leadbelly ("Alabama Bound") and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee ("Suppertime"); gospel came into the picture courtesy of the encore‚ "Lift Ev'ry Voice"; and we even got some twisted humor from the turn of the century in "The Old Apple Tree."
"I'm beginnin' to like the old stuff‚" Arlo told us after that song‚ ruefully adding‚ "Mainly because I'm startin' to be the old stuff!"
While there may be a little gravel on the chords‚ Arlo's still a hell of a singer‚ with the same undeniable energy and range of emotion. "City of New Orleans" had the wistful quality it did when the Steve Goodman composition became Arlo's biggest commercial hit‚ and "Comin' into Los Angeles" retains that happy-go-lucky vibe that's still wrapped around the one true Woodstock. "My Old Friend" -- written for Jackie‚ Arlo's wife of over 40 years -- radiated the comfort and joy that can come from a real partnership‚ while "My Peace" (a lyric Woody wrote while in the mental-health system) brought the crowd around to the simple peace that lies in every one of us. The Burns' backup vocals added wonderful colors to every tune they touched‚ particularly Arlo's hilarious musical answer to the nation's fiscal crisis‚ "I'm Changin' My Name to 'Fannie Mae."
It wouldn't be an Arlo Guthrie show without a story or ten‚ and Arlo's still one of the best storytellers around. Only Arlo could turn the Parable of Joseph into a Shaggy Dog story! Only Arlo could explain our national attention-deficit disorder by suggesting‚ "Maybe there's nuthin' to pay attention to! Maybe the world's crazy and the people are fine!" Only Arlo could describe the songwriting process as "kinda like fishin'. You sit there… And occasionally a song swims by… and if you've got a pen‚ you can catch 'em!"
Arlo went on to admit he missed some songs meant for him due to inattention ("I was watchin' Star Trek or somethin'…") and they swam downstream to somebody else -- "Bob Dylan! 'Hey Bob‚'" he yelled offstage‚ "'Can't you throw the little ones back?'" Of course‚ some songs couldn't help but reach Guthrie‚ like "The Motorcycle Song‚" one of his least favorite -- and seemingly‚ most revered‚ compositions. "Where's Dylan when you need him?" Arlo opined.
An Arlo Guthrie concert should be required viewing for anyone under the age of 21. There isn't a performer like Arlo anywhere in the current generation‚ and there probably won't be one after he's gone. But he's here now‚ he's as talented and funny as he ever was‚ and the good feeling that follows you home from his show is guaranteed to keep you warm on a cold winter's night.