He might have started life as Woody Guthrie’s kid, but Arlo has certainly made his own name over the years. He played a solo concert at the Virginia C. Piper Theater in the Scottsdale Center for Performing Arts last night to a full house.
Sit down and put your feet up because this is long and not exact. The man talks a lot and he talks fast. I couldn’t get it down verbatim like at some shows, but I tried. If you just want to know the songs he sang, look for the stuff in bold.
Also, there was no photography so the few pictures I got look like an acid induced light show.
The stage was set with two twelve-string guitars, two six-string guitars and a piano. He came on stage around 8 and said it was “nice to see ya here” and that they “say they’re gonna fix this place, they’ve been saying that about me.” Someone asked if he was broken and he said, “I been broke forever.”
He joked about how it was the first time since 1965 that he had spent the whole year on tour and that all his friends were doing reunion tours but since when he started it was just him, so he thought he’d do a “together at last” tour.
Chilling of the Evening
In The Shade of the Old Apple Tree
He said that was a “little humor from the turn of the last century.” He talked about how “the older I get the smarter I look to some people” and that people called him up to come speak at their functions. He talked about going and then telling them he didn’t know all that much and that he maintains that “songwriting is like fishing,” because “you mostly just sit there and once in awhile a song floats by.”
He said that some of them he missed because he was watching Star Trek or something and those ones went to Bob Dylan. He said he wrote Dylan a letter once and asked why he didn’t “throw the small ones back once in awhile” but Dylan didn’t think it was too funny. He went on to talk about how most the time he’s awake when he writes but that this song had come to him in a dream and he woke up, wrote it down and went back to sleep. When he got up, he couldn’t remember if it was him singing the song in the dream but decided, “what the hell, it’s my dream.”
He started talking about how a few years ago he had taken his family “which at this point is about 17 of ’em” and 30 or so friends and neighbors on a train ride tour down to New Orleans and it was a benefit for the musicians there and so he thought he better do one song that came from New Orleans, because he “knows two.”
St. James Infirmary
He said that if we had ever written a song or painted a picture or done anything creative that you know the feeling and “you get used to the feeling” and you can “see it coming.” He said he saw this song coming out of the corner of his eye and he got excited and grabbed a pen and some paper and started writing, “I don’t want a pic…” and he said “I don’t know what kind of song that is, why couldn’t it go to someone else?” and that songs were like kids and you “like your own” but you don’t know if they’re any good until you try them out on other people.
He explained that he was recording when he wrote it, so he just went in a recorded it before taking it out on the road and since the album sold he had to “sing if for the last freaking 40 years.”
He continued on about his motorcycle and how it was out in the garage and one year he decided to go out and ride it but one of his kids said, “hey pop, the plates are expired” and at some point his wife felt bad for him so she moved it to the living room which led to a story he had heard about a man who had his motorcycle in his living room and somehow it started up and ran him around and around the living room and then crashed through the wall and into the street. His wife called the ambulance and the paramedics and he went off to the hospital while she started cleaning up the mess with a shop-vac.
She disposed of everything in the bathroom and when he came home in his body cast he thought that he’d go to the bathroom and light up a cigarette and of course because all of the fumes had been building up all day it all exploded and so the ambulance and the paramedics came back and they were the same ones from the first time and they were laughing so hard they dropped him on the way out and he was more hurt than he was originally. Anyway, Arlo said “you can’t make this stuff up.”
The Motorcycle Song
He said, “after writing a song like that you begin to believe in instrumentals,” and he talked about a tv show he was on for one season called “Birds of Paradise” and that for all the other actors it was work but for him it was the best vacation because he got to spend six months being someone else. He talked about the guitar players in Hawaii and how they’ve got all sorts of tunings that have been passed down from generation to generation and that they’re secret and if “you even look like you’re figuring it out, they’ll kill you.”
He commented that he hates tuning, “specially when people are looking at you and the lights are shining on you” because “I learned how to tune by sight.”
After the song he started talking about how there are all kinds of blues and over in Germany he played a jazz and blues club and that he couldn’t talk to them like he was talking to us but he “could have but they woulda just set there.” He said he was going to play a Big Bill Broonzy tune.
Key to the Highway
He said when he was a kid the first thing he tried to learn was rags and it wasn’t until he was 16 he went to the Village in New York and saw David (Bromberg?) playing rags on guitar and he didn’t know you could do that.
He commented that it was stuff you could go anywhere in the world with and that most people know what it is. He said that he went to Australia and that you can’t get any farther from where he lives without being on the way back. He talked about how you have to get a plane from the east coast to the west coast and there aren’t many flights and then after a day you finally get on the plane to go to Australia and have to sit for “15 freaking hours” and the “food sucks” and that he was “afraid to get up cos they’ll think you’re a terrorist.” He watched movies and it was so bad he listened to the business journal and that was the first 15 minutes.
He said that part of the charm of going to Australia is that when you get there, you’re just happy to be there. He talked about the promoter coming to get them at the airport and they went down by Sydney Harbor and that there was not a soul to be seen and suddenly all these people went running by and they all stopped at the sound of a whistle and they found out it was the next Godzilla movie and that they were the only three people in Australia who didn’t know.
He kept talking about flying to different cities in Australia and how it’s nice that you can drive up and actually stop and they won’t come yell at you like here in the states and that here you can drive around and around and you don’t actually pick people up you just grab em on your way by. He said that they “still search ya, a lot of people think that’s a new thing. I been on the list for 40 freaking years.”
He said that they had gone through security and he told the guy that he was nowhere near the threat he had tried to be and they were checking the mandolin case and “they opened it up and sure enough there’s a mandolin” but they wouldn’t let the strings in the package through because they could be used to strangle someone. Arlo said, “Whoa, we didn’t think of that” and noted that they let the strings already on the mandolin through and he “didn’t know terrorists only used new strings to strangle people.”
Moving on to the dogs at the airport he made the jump somehow to technology and that it was a way for a lot of people to do what one person could and that like ice cream, the first person who invented ice cream and the king had it but then technology came along and there’s ice cream everywhere, and that the with the telephone now everyone can hear a long ways away and with the television now everyone can see thousands of miles away.
He said he wondered who went around sniffing the luggage before the dogs and that he knew what he was talking about because he was sitting on the plane and had what they call an “illegal substance on my person” and he “didn’t mean to have it, it’s just so cheap over there” and then said it was a present from his friends and after they had closed the door and taken off he was opening his presents and realized he was in trouble. But being as he “grew up in a waste not, want not” family he though of the “dopeless children in China,” and decided the only thing he could do was to eat it.
Somehow we jumped to the plane being a time tunnel and the people going through and it coming towards him and anyway he got off and the drug sniffing man was looking at him with eyes that said, “I know you ate it,” and he had “a look in my eyes that said, ‘Yup.'”
Coming Into Los Angeles
He said that was the old days and he wondered if times had changed. He told a story about being in the airport in Boston and waiting in the same area as a couple of Secret Service men and he could tell they were Secret Service because they had the suits and the earpieces and that “when you’re a child of the sixties and you’re in that vicinity there’s a chemical reaction that happens.” Then the Secret Service man came over and asked if he was Arlo Guthrie and he nodded and then asked if he was “bringing in a couple of ki’s” and then Arlo noticed he had a big smile on his face and that he had grown up with the song and they walked away with a bunch of Secret Service buttons and stuff and decided, “yup, times have changed.”
He said that the next song was a song he learned from Dillard Chandler (Thanks to Eugene for the correct name and spelling) and it was a kids song but he liked it.
Green, Green Rocky Road
Intermission (yes, we’ve just gotten to the intermission)
He came back out on stage and said, “You’re still here!” He said that when he decided to tour by himself he figured he could get away with singing whatever he felt like but he couldn’t remember much. He said that he was getting little Myspace messages from 15 year olds and they were saying that they had just discovered him and were coming to his show and so he had “new victims” but he also had to think about bringing out things he wasn’t planning on playing and that this was one of them.
When he started people started cheering and he said, “sounds like you might have heard this one before.” He got through half of it and then started talking about how some people might think the draft is an old thing but “tell that to the folks they’re calling back” that they were calling back grandma and grandpa all kinds of crazy stuff and that “we was either in school or in Asian countries, all expenses paid” but it wasn’t a reason enough to keep him from flunking out of school so he went visiting military bases and then went to the rest of the song.
During the part about Group W he added senators and congress men to the bench. Near the end he said that if you walked in and sang the song they’d say that you’re too late, but if you walked in with someone else hand-in-hand singing he didn’t know what the policy is but “if you tell ’em, you ain’t going” and that if a group went in, some of the people might be too young to know what a movement was.
Of course, true to Arizona form, Arlo declared that our sing-a-long was bad, saying, “that sucks! You can’t sing loud only at the end” and that if we wanted to end the war we had to sing loud enough for them to hear us. He said that his dad had told him if he couldn’t be great it’s better to be long.”
He finished the song and said that he was just glad he could remember it and he was lucky to remember who he was. He said he read an article that said if you smoke weed, you won’t get Alzheimer’s. He said he couldn’t believe they printed it and he “stopped 40 years ago because I couldn’t remember who I was” and that it was a “tough choice” to remember yourself then or now.
He talked about the two kinds of people in choosing sides, “people who give a damn and people who didn’t” and that he had more in common with the people who cared even if they weren’t on the same side that he was and that was a long way of saying he made a lot of friends he didn’t expect to make. He told a story about how he was playing a festival in his Dad’s hometown and that it was a week until the next show in Peoria, IL and that the hotel in Peoria didn’t have any rooms so they got half way there and it turns out that there was a meeting of Vietnam Vets there and he was asked to speak to them and he decided it was iffy.
He said that one of his favorite quotes was from Marilyn Monroe and that you wouldn’t find it in any quote books but “ever notice that what the hell is always the right decision” so he did and he ran into old friends and sang them “Alice’s Restaurant” and that on the way back to his room he realized that it was 40 years to the hour that he had first sung the song at the Newport Folk Festival.
About the next song he said that he had written it years ago when there still was a Soviet Union and that it was for some old friends.
When A Soldier Makes It Home
He talked about watching the Katrina disaster unfold and how he had a coast guard station in Florida that he had bought with his Alice money and that he knew what they were in for. He said that after all the natural disaster there was the man made part and that he had to switch channels and some lady was selling jewelry and he thought that “some things just go on no matter what” and that was what inspired the next song.
In Times Like These
He moved to the piano and said “I like those kind of songs, on the other hand I’m throughly depressed.” He continued into a story about learning to play piano and how he would memorize the pieces and play them so he didn’t have to learn to read music and that he and his step-dad didn’t get along well (because he was a barber and didn’t like music) and that he’d play a song and his step-dad would come over and look at the music that he couldn’t read either and ask if he as playing it right and Arlo would point to the music and say it was Beethoven and there’s the little notes.
He said he tried it when his mom was watching and she could read music and the gig was up. They made a deal that he had to sit on the piano bench for an hour if he played or not so he took his guitar to the piano bench and played for an hour. It made her mad but, “a deal’s a deal.” He explained what a 78 was and that they had a record player that would play 78s at 33 1/2 speed so he could “figure out what the hell those guys were doing” and that he didn’t know how anyone learns anything off of a CD.
He said his sister had told him that the piano teacher was coming to one of his shows and he was like, “She’s still alive? What am I gonna do, I never learned freaking Beethoven” and that since he couldn’t practice piano while driving down the road he had to do it while we were sitting there so “bear with me.”
He told the story about being in a bar in Chicago and packing up his stuff and some little guy came up to him and wanted to play him a song and he was “being a butt head” and said he didn’t like songs but the guy could buy him a beer and do whatever he wanted while he was drinking the beer. He said it turned out to be the finest beer of his life.
City Of New Orleans
He started This Land Is Your Land and people were clapping along and after one verse he stopped saying, “I’m walking a tightrope up here, the slightest diversion and I’m off in another tale. If you want to get out of here you might want to stop.” He said that this world was crazy and you don’t know if anyone can make a difference which reminded him of a story about Joseph and a coat and asked if people in Scottsdale read that story and that “he didn’t read it that careful” and he was “obviously paraphrasing” but that there was an anonymous dude that said “they went that way” and through the story and the dreams and the pharaoh and the seven years of good and seven years of bad and it was all good until they had a crop of bad pharaohs or something but “that’s another story, that’s Moses.”
He said he had been through a lot of history in a short time but that all of that history depended on that one anonymous dude that said, “they went that way,” and that the “whole freaking world could hinge on you” and that man is “sitting around going, ‘I should have given them my name'”
He went back into This Land is Your Land and said it was really nice to be here and that the one thing he had to say is that there were a lot of weird people disguised as normal and that “you get those peace and love types out of the woodwork” and that what would happen if the whole world was nice and peaceful and wonderful and then you’d have to go a hell of a long way to make a difference and in a world like we had now you didn’t have to do much.
He left and came back out for an encore.
He said that we could have left if we wanted and that he thought out of 12 strings, one of them would be in tune. He said someone once asked him what the difference between a 6-string and a 12-string guitar was and kinda just let that sink in for a minute. He said his dad was a writing maniac and the kind of guy that you wouldn’t want to have visit in your home because he would write on all your paper products and then all of the other stuff and that people had started sending them in and there were 3300 songs that were just lyrics and his sister was compiling them.
He talked about his dad and his going to the hospital and after three months the doctor called his mom and said that he had “dillusions of grandeur” because he thought he was a folk singer. She went to bust him out but he had made friends and wanted to stay so they brought fiddles every week and he kept writing. He said that this was one of those songs and it was a little peace song, not the big peace but the little peace like the kind that makes people happy to see you and makes babies like you.
He said that he was going to ask us to sing along and that people didn’t do that enough any more and that if it was too “Kumbaya for you” you could just mumble along because he knew some people who make a living doing that. He said that when there’s a sing along it goes out on the wind and around the world and some soldier hears it like the sound of what the world ought to be.
He said, “go in peace, god bless” and was done.