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You can get anything you want at Arlo's restaurant

By Joel Rosenberg
Staff Reporter

"Arlo Guthrie? I thought he was dead."

That's how Arlo introduced himself at the House of Blues last December during his three-night stay in Cambridge. By the end of the night, he had proven he was most certainly still living.

For those unfamiliar with Arlo, his career was launched in 1967 when the then 20-year-old folk singer released what was to become his signature song, "Alice's Restaurant Massacre," in which he cut on small town law enforcement and Vietnam, two topics that the public appreciated, especially in Guthrie's unique storytelling style.

That style, with flawless timing and just enough humor, has kept them coming for more ever since. Last summer Arlo emceed the Further Festival, a Grateful Dead tribute concert, and when he returned to Boston last month, he hadn't missed a beat.

Backed by his son on synthesizer, Arlo spent a few hours entertaining the packed crowd on guitar, harmonica, keyboards, and even a bit of ukulele towards the end. But it was the stories about his life were what made the show truly compelling and richly entertaining.

In one story he described how he had been doing some charity work a few years ago, making rounds in a hospital with his guitar and a friend. At one point, his friend asked one of the patients if there was anything she could do for him; he said he had always been a fan of Arlo Guthrie and would really like to meet him. After telling the patient to close his eyes, he nearly died when he opened them to find Arlo standing before him.

Another story was about the time he snuck into the studio where they were recording a promo for his latest record. When he made a suggestion to the guy doing the voiceover, the guy became enraged, stormed out, and left Arlo to do it himself. Stepping up to the challenge, he put on the headphones and did the best Bob Dylan impression he could. Next day Arlo was called into the "Big Office," where a bunch of suits were sitting around a large wooden table with a lone audio cassette on it.

"Arlo, you can't do this," they said to him.

"Why not?" he questioned.

"We don't have permission," they told him.

So Arlo went and gave the tape to Dylan's people. A few days later he got a call from Bob himself, who said, "Arlo, when my record comes out will you do a promo for me?"

Arlo often blurred the line between his singing and his storytelling. He explained "The Motorcycle Song" as a moment-of-truth vision he saw written across the sky in the split second following an accident he had on his bike. "Ring-Around-A-Rosy Rag," he explained, was inspired by a heavily intoxicated trip to the park with his friends. "Alice's Restaurant" was impeccably done, and had additional material describing how he has first hand knowledge that Nixon owned an opened copy of Alice's Restaurant, and that the original version was eighteen and a half minutes long. He recited Mooses Come Walking, a poem he wrote about how the creatures are moving into his western Massachusetts homestead, and how happy he was to find out that mooses is correct. And his encore cover of Steve Goodman's The City of New Orleans brought a tear to the eye.

Talking about Woodstock as a first hand participant, discussing memory lapses from the drugs, and sporting long hair and a goatee, Arlo remains a vintage hippie, a title he is most proud of it. "I'm not real smart," he told the audience. Anyone who saw him singing and telling stories without missing a beat or pausing a moment would most likely disagree, and would certainly testify to the life Arlo still has left in him.