Stories & songs and songs & stories from Arlo Guthrie
At the Berklee Performance Center.
Friday, Nov. 16.
By CHRIS WANJEK
WITHOUT AN INTRODUCTION, or even a warning, Arlo Guthrie walked onto the stage of the Berklee Performance Center last Friday night, picked up a guitar, and began to play "Ukulele Lady."
But the song didn't last long.
Half way through, Arlo stopped playing -- and the audience laughed in anticipation. "I don't know what got me playing these tropical paradise songs," he said. "I never lived near no water." This led into a hilarious story about Arlo planting palm trees on his Massachusetts farm, which he said will soon be beach-front property thanks to the greenhouse effect.
Stories led into songs and songs led into more stories. Woody Guthrie's "I Ain't Got No Home in This World" spawned another anecdote. "My father used to steal a lot of songs," Arlo said. "People used to call it plagiarism and stealin' and nasty words like that until Pete Seeger came around and renamed it `the folk tradition.' "
Even "The Garden Song" turned into a sarcastic lecture about censorship. "There should be a warning label on this album," he said, " 'cause who knows what these lyrics are really about. I should play it backwards to find out."
Arlo wasn't completely carefree during the show, although he'd probably admit that he was. He played a beautiful rendition of Dylan's "When the Ship Comes In," along with many of his own songs. He picked up his 12-string guitar for "Coming Into Los Angeles" and walked over to his electric piano for "City of New Orleans," "In my Darkest Hour," and "Last to Leave."
Arlo also played two new songs. "Keep the Dream Alive" and the moving "When a Soldier Makes it Home" will be available soon on an upcoming album, his first since he left Warner Brothers several years ago.
Midway through the concert, Arlo was joined by blues guitarist Ed Gerhard. Ed played a magnificent solo blues medley and accompanied Arlo on many other songs. But Ed was unchallenged during most of the concert. It would have been nice to hear him play some Mississippi blues with Arlo on harmonica. But this never happened.
The show neared its end with "Massachusetts," a song which Arlo only plays in this state. He then played a biting harmonica intro to "Amazing Grace." As the music kept playing, Arlo told a moving story about John Newton, the composer of "Amazing Grace." John Newton was the captain of an English slave ship. On one particular trip, something happened to Newton as he looked around at the human captives. He turned the ship around, set the Africans free, and returned to England to write spirituals.
"It's never too late to turn around," Arlo said. "People try to change the world everyday." He thanked the audience and walked off stage only to return in about 15 seconds for an encore.
"Play `Alice's Restaurant,' " someone yelled.
"That's why I put it on an album," Arlo answered. "We'll be here all night."
He played "Highway in the Wind" instead, and few were disappointed. Arlo then smiled, bowed to the standing ovation, and walked off stage as simply as he entered.