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Concert Review: This 'Kid' is an old soul

April 15, 2013|By Michael Miller
(Courtesy Rising…)

Arlo Guthrie didn't perform "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" Saturday night at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, but the song, in a way, was there in spirit.

Guthrie's signature tune from 1967 (better known simply as "Alice's Restaurant") works partly as music and partly as stand-up comedy; most of its 18-plus minutes consist of a rambling yarn about Guthrie's arrest for littering and how his criminal record saved him from going to Vietnam. The Barclay show, titled "Arlo Guthrie: Here Comes the Kid," followed a similar format: plenty of tunes and plenty of talking.

In fact, if the show had consisted of nothing but Guthrie perched on his footstool, tuning his guitar strings and tossing off stories, it would have been entertaining enough. In two or so hours, the Kid regaled the audience with accounts of his Kidhood and beyond — spying on his father, Woody Guthrie, as he wrote songs, hanging out with Lead Belly, reveling in the 1960s counterculture and more.

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"Well, you're still here," Guthrie said upon returning to the stage after intermission. Given the amount of history alone onstage, its doubtful many would have skipped out early.

But on musical terms, too, the show was a treat, as Guthrie, backed only by his own guitar or piano, breathed life into a century's worth of American popular music. The "Here Comes the Kid" tour, which started last year, celebrates the 100th anniversary of Woody Guthrie's birth, and the first half of the Barclay set offered a plethora of Woody tunes, with the jaunty "Do Re Mi" and the mournful "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)" among the highlights.

The latter song, about a crash that claimed the lives of dozens of immigrant laborers, inspired a particularly moving footnote from Guthrie: The victims of the accident, who, to Woody's chagrin, were labeled simply as "deportees" in the mainstream media in 1948, will soon be memorialized with a plaque bearing their names.

Hearing that story, as well as the one that introduced "1913 Massacre" (an account of a slaying of copper miners and their families in Michigan, where, Guthrie said, he's met descendants of the victims), served as a reminder of the true value of folk music. Often, traditional songs pay tribute to nameless people; just as often, their authors are anonymous as well. Through performers like the Guthries, their ideas pass on through the decades.

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