What was missing at the Birchmere on Wednesday? A fine Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat, as Arlo Guthrie served up "Alice's Restaurant."

Aided by son Abe Guthrie on keyboards and Gordon Titcomb on pedal steel and mandolin, the 58-year-old folk legend explored music old and new. A couple of songs he wrote in Hawaii were among the standouts, including an instrumental, "Haleiwa Blues," in which his acoustic guitar evoked the slack-key sound of the islands as well as Celtic and Western modes. He also showed that the past wasn't very far away with "When a Soldier Makes It Home": The song bears witness to fallen soldiers' body bags being brought home at night, with no fanfare.

And he brought the past to the present with "Alice," which he sneaked in after a rollicking ragtime piano solo, just before the intermission. As the audience began to clap in rhythm with the familiar guitar line, he warned, "You don't want to clap through the whole song." Probably still long enough for an album side -- a unit of measurement this crowd would remember -- the epic tale began with Guthrie adopting a slightly antiquated wheedle: "It all started 40 Thanksgivings ago . . . ." The shovels and rakes and implements of destruction were in place, as were the 27 8-by-10 color glossy pictures and the Group W Bench. And it was comforting to believe, maybe just for a few choruses, that one could stop a war by confronting authorities with a song. "They might think it's a movement," the storyteller encouraged, before adding dryly, "and most of them would be too young to know what a movement was."

-- Pamela Murray Winters