The show was at the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, which is a two-hour drive from where I live. I had a very nice dinner at the Brick House Brewery with peterdavidblog and puppetmaker40 (best line of dinner was the latter to the former: "You just told Keith DeCandido that he's silly"). Then I went to the show, which was introduced by a member of the theatre's board of directors, who has a lot of fans in Patchogue. John Platt, a DJ from WFUV, then said a few words and introduced Arlo.
The audience was a broad range of people, but most were my age or older. It was also nice to be somewhere where I didn't have the longest hair among the men -- in fact, I wasn't even close...... *chuckle*
Arlo's performing by himself for this tour, which is the first time in a while he's toured alone. In recent times he's had members of his family playing with him, and a couple of years ago he toured with an orchestra (immortalized on the magnificent In Times Like These CD). But now he's on the so-called "Solo Reunion Tour, Together at Last." He came out with four guitars -- a bright blue one, a regular acoustic, a twelve-string, and a brown one that he specifically used for bluesy stuff and for "This Land..."
Here's the full song list:
- First set:
"Chilling of the Evening"
"Shade of the Old Apple Tree"
"In My Darkest Hour"
"St. James Infirmary"
"The Motorcycle Song"
"Haleiwa Farewell (Haleiwa Blues)"
"Keys to the Highway"
"St. Louis Tickle"
"Coming Into Los Angeles"
"Green Green Rocky Road"
"Alice's Restaurant Massacree"
"When a Soldier Makes it Home"
"In Times Like These"
a ragtime song on the piano that I never got the name of
"City of New Orleans"
"This Land is Your Land"
"Shade of the Old Apple Tree" was one of only three songs I'd never heard before in any form. Turns out it's an old Ramblin' Jack Elliott song -- a silly variation on a song that dates back to 1905.
He introduced "St. James Infirmary" by talking about how he and a bunch of other folks went to New Orleans in early 2006 to help the musicians devastated by Katrina, and he figured he should play a New Orleans song, and that's one of the two he knows, he said.
There were stories all over the place. Some were familiar. For example, while the intro to "Coming Into Los Angeles" started with a discussion of travelling and airport security (including one of his accompanists, Gordon Titcomb, having his mandolin strings confiscated by TSA), it modulated into the story of the man who smelled the runway before they got dogs to do it (which can be heard on the Live at Sydney CD). He told the same story about meeting Steve Goodman before playing "City of New Orleans" that can be heard on both MORE Together in Concert and the Sydney CD.
But some were new, like the tale of his piano lessons as a kid, where he ignored the teacher's attempts to get him to learn Beethoven in favor of the ragtime records his father had in the basement. He used to take his Dad's 78s and play them at 33 1/3 speed (for those of you who don't know what that means, ask your parents), so he could make out the notes -- and added that he has no idea how people learn things from CDs.
"In Times Like These" is a song I'd only heard on the eponymous CD, and it turns out that he wrote it in the wake of Katrina, which is unsurprising, given the lyrics.
Introducing "The Motorcycle Song," he talked about songwriting, and how it's like fishing: you sit around a lot, and sometimes a song comes by. If you have a pen, you can catch it. (He also took some good-natured shots at Bob Dylan, including recommend that you not fish downstream from him.)
I was blown away by his rendition of "St. Louis Tickle." That ragtime instrumental can be heard on two live albums, One Night and Precious Friend, and it's focused on the piano and also includes full instrumentation. So I was very impressed to see him play it solo on the guitar. He explained that when he was a kid, he'd go to the Greenwich Village clubs and he saw Dave Van Ronk play, and was stunned to hear him play old piano ragtime songs on the guitar. He didn't know you could do that, and he swore he'd learn how to do that. He did so -- six months ago. *grin*
The second set opened with much heavier stuff. "Alice's Restaurant" has, to coin a phrase, come around on the guitar again in terms of relevance with people getting reactivated for the 9000th time to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan. He also made one entertaining addition, when describing the Group W bench: "There were all kindsa mean, nasty, ugly people there. Mother-rapers. Father-stabbers. Father-rapers. Senators. Congressmen." That got raucous applause. He also blamed his doing "Alice" on the 15-year-olds on MySpace who e-mail him saying they became fans of his six months ago and want to hear it.
He followed "Alice" with "When a Soldier Makes it Home," a song he originally wrote around the time of the Gulf War in the early 1990s, and which he said on 1993's MORE Together in Concert was already out of date. Sadly, it too has come around on the guitar again, and has actually become more poignant since September 2001. After that was "In Times Like These," a Katrina song, and he then went to the piano saying he had depressed himself.
He did a ragtime song that he never named after that, after talking about his piano teacher (who is apparently still alive and planning to come to a show on this tour), and then did "City of New Orleans."
In the middle of "This Land is Your Land," he told the story of Joseph (the same Bible story that Andrew Lloyd Webber made into Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat), including the bit where Joseph is looking for his brothers, who aren't where he thought they'd be, and some unnamed person points and says, "They're that way." When he catches up to them, the brothers send him to jail in Egypt. While there, he helps his cellmates with troubled dreams. One cellmate goes on to advise the Pharaoh and when the Pharaoh has bad dreams, Joseph is summoned, and he helps predict a drought and helps Egypt prepare for it. From Joseph derives Moses, and from Moses comes the whole line of people down to Jesus, and all that -- and it's all because of that one guy who said, "They went that way." This was by way of explaining that one person can make a difference....
The final song was called "My Peace." Apparently his father left a lot of lyrics that he never wrote music to, and Arlo's sister Nora has been taking these genuine Woody Guthrie lyrics and sending them to musicians all over the world. "My Peace" is one that Arlo created a melody for, and it's about how achieving your own personal peace -- the kind that makes dogs lick you and babies like you -- is the most important thing, and the bigger peace will take care of itself.
My only disappointment with the show: He didn't do "Gabriel's Highway Ballad #16 Blues," a song I went to the trouble of e-mailing Arlo with a request for him to do. Ah, well. It was a minor disappointment, all told.
The show was simply magnificent, all I could've hoped for, and more. If Arlo comes to your town, do yourself a favor and go see him. There's a schedule on his web site at Arlo.net.