Guthrie tells stories, plays good music in Troy

Arlo Guthrie didn't sing "Alice's Restaurant" in a concert Wednesday at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall

“The older I get, the smarter I look,” Arlo Guthrie told the mostly filled Troy Music Hall Wednesday night. “So people ask me to speak at their functions,” he said, laughing. They often ask him about his songwriting, which he likens to fishing. “I just sit there, waiting for songs to go by. You can catch them if you have a pen.”

He revisited this theme throughout the concert, claiming that he unknowingly lets a lot of songs go by, particularly the good ones, which seem to make it to people like Bob Dylan. “I once wrote Bob and asked him to throw a few of the small ones back.”

Guthrie told rich stories like these all night, from his experience playing Woodstock on the first day of the three-day festival, to growing up in a family like the Guthries, to remembering the great Leadbelly. He also sang an equally wide range of songs, taking us through a century of music.

Backed by a four-man band and the three Burns Sisters on vocals, Guthrie played early the heavy “Darkest Hour,” where he blew through a sweet, melancholy harmonica solo while strumming his acoustic. He played the old blues of “St. James Infirmary” and an equally blues-based Sonny Terry tune.

He spoke about the Dust Bowl his father Woody sang about often, following with the song “Do Re Mi,” an old song of his dad’s that Arlo recorded for his most recent release called “32 Cents,” commemorating his father on a stamp about a decade ago.

Guthrie talked some more about how his songs just come to him, and lamented that “The Motorcycle Song” came to him. “Why couldn’t that one go to someone else.” He joked that it embarrassed the family, and because it sold well, he was stuck playing it for the past 40 years. Good for us, we got to hear the odd but likable tune Wednesday night.

“After writing a song like that, you begin to believe in instrumentals,” he said afterwards, playing a beautiful song he wrote while in Hawaii.

After describing in detail the overwhelming experience he had performing at Woodstock 40 years ago, he treated us to a fresh sounding “Coming into Los Angeles,” highlighted by his son Abe playing the energetic keyboard solo.

One of the strongest moments of the night was the song, and the intro-story to, “When a Soldier Makes It Home.” Guthrie’s songs are typically short, but this one he played out through its several verses.

He moved to the piano for the classic “City of New Orleans” and a few others.

Guthrie is every bit an entertainer, but he maintains his political edge as well, speaking and singing often about the country’s financial situation, wars today and yesterday, and Hurricane Katrina, which inspired several of his songs Wednesday night.

Since it’s close to Thanksgiving, you couldn’t help think he’d play “Alice’s Restaurant.” He didn’t. But he did a wonderful version of “This Land Is Your Land,” filled with stories from the Bible. For well past two hours he put on a great show of music, tales of his abundant experiences, social commentary and plain old fun.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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