BWW Review: ARLO GUTHRIE: ALICE'S RESTAURANT TOUR at Governor Hindmarsh Hotel

BWW Review: ARLO GUTHRIE: ALICE'S RESTAURANT TOUR at Governor Hindmarsh HotelReviewed by Ray Smith, Wednesday 24th April 2019.

"Doors open at 7.30pm", the website starkly announced. I made my way into the backroom of the Governor Hindmarsh Hotel at 7.32pm to find a sea, no, an ocean of people clamouring for the few seats still available in the cavernous venue. A very substantial crowd for a 'hump day' gig in sleepy old Adelaide, but this was Arlo Guthrie, and this was the Alice's Restaurant Tour, and we were all in a time machine, and we all really wanted to be there.

We soon realised that Arlo and his band wanted to be there too as they launched into a version, or was it a parody, of the iconic Motorcycle Song. I had already warned friends that if he didn't play the Motorcycle Song I wouldn't be held responsible for my actions, but he sang it first which disarmed me somewhat.

I soon recovered, and decided that I wouldn't be held accountable for my actions anyway, and relaxed into the seat that the kind people at the Governor Hindmarsh had reserved for me that offered a perfect and unrestricted view of the stage. I shall always think of that particular seat as part of the 'Group W Bench', as sitting next to me was one of my oldest friends who most definitely deserves to be on the 'Group W Bench'.

Guthrie knows his way around a guitar neck, and he demonstrated his prowess on the harmonica too as the band launched into Darkest Hour. The band was comprised of members that should have a fairly clear idea of what Arlo's music is about, as Terry "A La Berry" Hall on drums has been with him since 1975. Steve Ide on acoustic and electric guitar, had shared the stage with Arlo since 1977 as had Carol Ide on percussion. The youngest member of the ensemble, playing keyboards, had been with Arlo all of his life, so if Abe Guthrie didn't know what was going on, we were all in trouble.

Every member of the band offered vocals alongside their other duties, and although Terry Hall didn't have a vocal microphone, his enthusiastic singing along with the choruses while simultaneously maintaining a relentlessly accurate beat, was a joy to behold.

There were stories aplenty from Arlo Guthrie, all delivered in that famously unhurried and wordy style of his, that gives the listener the impression that they are alone in a room with the man, sipping a drink of something nice, in a comfortable chair, by an open fire just as the sun is going down.
Romantic? Of course it was romantic.
Nostalgic? Of course it was nostalgic.
Engaging? Of course it was engaging, we're in a time machine with Arlo Guthrie, for goodness sake, imagining that ours seats are comfortable and that there's no one else there.

A 'slackstring' instrumental was offered, just out of the blue it seemed to me. Slackstring refers to the tuning down of some or even all of the strings on a guitar to create a new tuning that allows other harmonies to be explored. These are the situations in which the skills of all the instrumentalists can be seen most clearly. An instrumental piece doesn't need the cautious approach from accompanists that a work with lyrics demands.

Abe Guthrie took a solo, as his Father held down the chords and the basic riffs that defined the piece, that was subtle, skilled and loose, but very deliberate. The perfect understatement to the inherent softness of the work, and a testament to the skill of the player not only as an instrumentalist, but also as an empathetic interpreter of the spirit of the composition.

When Steve Ide joined the musical conversation, it was easy to see why Arlo Guthrie had chosen these particular players to join him on tour. It was very clear from Ide's playing that he could play virtually any style at a speed of his own choosing, but he chose to play this piece in such a restrained and controlled way that I ached in envy of his discipline.

Saint James Infirmary Blues is, of course, an absolute classic of the genre but it was Guthrie's introduction to the song that spoke to all of the assembled masses. He told us that he had worked on playing Blues since he was very young but, "You can't sing Blues when you're thirteen. You sound like an idiot. You have to be old and grouchy. I think I'm there." The rendition of this superb piece of Blues history was stunning, and, yet again, demonstrated the calibre of the band we were watching and listening to. The arrangement allowed for two quite extensive solos and, as I heard the first of them approach, I instinctively focussed on Steve Ide. Steve Ide just vamped while Arlo Guthrie's guitar leapt into the available space and soared and wailed through the two solos with an authority that would have put a smile on Robert Johnson's face. This is a seriously class act.

Arlo's twelve string took a bit of a hammering during a Leadbelly song but my focus was swiftly switched to his son Abe's keyboard playing, as the mild mannered reporter for the Daily Globe turned into the rockiest and most solid synth smasher I've heard in years.

"Where on Earth is the violin coming from?" I wondered, until I noticed that Steve Ide was using a swell pedal to totally remove the attack of his guitar notes as he slid a bottleneck over the strings to extraordinary effect.

"Dad (Woody Guthrie) wasn't home and this guy (Bob Dylan) came to the door looking to talk to Dad. I didn't know who he was 'cos I was only thirteen, but I let him in 'cos he had nice shoes." There were plenty of stories and anecdotes, many of which I had never heard or even read about before, but the songs kept coming, sometimes without pause one on top of the other. There was an insistence, a relentlessness, an energy that I hadn't anticipated that drove the show forward harder and harder.

Most of the material was well known to the vast majority of the punters in the room, but the quirky 'alt country' feel gave way to genuine American Folk, Blues, and Soft Rock that suddenly hardened.

I admit that I had anticipated a walk down memory lane, led by a guy who isn't "that" much older than me but would probably require a walking frame and some memory joggers from his carer. Nope. Arlo Guthrie, with selected friends, kicking arse and taking names is what I got, and this was only the first set.

Set Two started with the immortal Alice's Restaurant. People of a certain age know exactly how this goes, we can recite it like a litany at the drop of a hat, much to the horror of our children. The familiar saga ran, as Arlo Guthrie recited the piece while playing the familiar guitar picking melody behind it, and the other members of the ensemble maintained a reverent silence.

Towards the end of "Lesson 1967 from the Book of Guthrie" as I like to think of it, there was a change. An edit! An Aberration! An Alteration! He began to talk of the more contemporary issues that face us. Not in terms of names or dates or specific political viewpoints, but more in terms of the people as opposed to the State.

He did his protesting in the 60s and into the 70s but it is no longer his job to do that. It's the job of younger writers and activists to do that. He said that we need a new song of resistance, for new times. "While we're waiting for a new one to be wrote, we'll just sing the one we got. Some of you might even know it". I could easily leave this review on that note, but Arlo Guthrie didn't so why should I.

Arlo and his band continued to amaze us with songs that dredged up memories that evoke the, "where were you when you first heard this song?" situations. Coming Into Los Angeles was greeted by a roar of approval, as Ide's extraordinarily clean guitar solo swept us all back to the early seventies, and Abe's keyboard took on a vintage Hammond persona that very nearly made my hair grow back!

Good Morning America How Are You? echoed around the room as the band began to wind up a stupendously successful performance.

Without the indignity of going to the Green Room and waiting for the audience applause and screams of, "more, more", the band quietly waited, acknowledging the first standing ovation from an absolutely packed crowd, before the 'requests' started to be bellowed from the dance floor.

"Can you hear me asking for suggestions?" answered Arlo, before the band generously offered a piece, My Peace, that was written as a poem by Woodie Guthrie, put into music by his son Arlo Guthrie, and played and sung, in ensemble, by his grandson, Abe Guthrie. Imagine if you can how Abe would have felt during that encore.

As Arlo helped us with the lyrics, literally everyone in the audience joined in. We can all now say that we have sung with Woody, Arlo and Abe Guthrie. If that don't git'cha in the heart strings, nuthin' will.

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