Arlo Guthrie in concert with Abe Guthrie and the band Xavier, Thursday, April 18, at Kingsbury Hall. One show only. It's not important what the songs mean, said Arlo Guthrie, recalling how some people in the 1960s almost killed each other arguing over the definition of a folk song.
What's important is how the songs make you feel. In the heart.Sounds silly? Trite? Maybe. But feelings of silliness were nowhere to be found Thursday night. Instead, several hundred people, most suffering in one way or another from a mean world outside, were given something to smile (and laugh) about, if just for a few moments.
The smiles reflected the simple "stuff" of Arlo's repertoire: peace, love, hope - concepts that are easily grasped as an entire auditorium sings along with Arlo on "Amazing Grace."
An American folk legend and self-proclaimed "survivor" of the '60s, Arlo is not encumbered by deep philosophical leanings.
Like his mentor and musical hero, Bob Dylan, Arlo denounces the planet's inequities. But unlike Dylan - who, incidentally, idolized Arlo's father - Arlo spends little time on despair. He refuses to take himself - or life - too seriously.
"If you've heard something tonight unusual, strange, unidentifiable. . . just note that I don't always think about everything I say," said Arlo, whose rosy cheeks and past-the-shoulder-length gray hair make him look a little like Santa Claus, though Arlo is in much better shape framewise.
A harmonica holder around his neck, Arlo alternated between the electric piano and his six-string and 12-string guitars, playing for nearly two hours. He did the old and the new - some of his own, like "Highway in the Wind" and "Keep the Dream Alive," and some written by others, such as Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans" and Dylan's "When the Ship Comes In."
In between the 15 or so songs, Arlo, a master storyteller and comic, kept the crowd loose by recounting some of his experiences.
Like a concert a few years ago in Tucson, Ariz. Just so happened that Dylan was playing in town the same night. A local newspaper writer called Arlo in advance to ask him, "Why would anyone want to come see you?"
Arlo said he couldn't think of a reason. "So I told him if anyone wants to hear some real good Bob Dylan songs, they'll have to come hear me. They printed it. I was just being a smartass."
People came in large numbers to see Arlo, prompting him to spend time backstage with his Bob Dylan Songbook during the warm-up act.
Then there's the story about an appearance on a radio show in which he said he didn't really know all the words to "Amazing Grace" and asked someone to send them to him. He got thousands of responses.
"Not one was written by hand. They were all torn out of hymn-books."
Guilt, he said, makes him sing "Amazing Grace" often because he's afraid no one else has the words to it anymore.
One of the night's touching moments came as he paid a brief tribute to his father, the great folksinger Woody Guthrie.
But Arlo can't be serious for long. As the crowd applauded, he said, "Thanks. I'll tell him.
Accompanying Arlo during most of the show was his son Abraham's rock 'n' roll band, Xavier, for which Abe plays the keyboards. Despite the youth of its members, Xavier was a superb backup band.