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'First Night' can be first-rate - or a flop; Tom Rush sings with friends; Tom Rush at Symphony Hall

A Tom Rush concert is about as close to a coffeehouse atmosphere as big ole Symphony Hall can get. In what's become an annual year-end event, folk guitarist Rush - and an abundance of musical friends - filled the place last week with warmth and humor.

Rush, in fact, was only a part of the show - for some, perhaps, too small a part. But what there was of him was superb, as he mixed a few of his older songs with more recent material.

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''Lost My Drivin' Wheel'' was movingly sung to an appreciative audience, many of whom certainly had followed him since his early Cambridge days. ''The Dreamer ,'' written recently by Rush, showcased his reflective nature, as his rendition of Tex Ritter's ''The Bandit of Brazil'' reflected his impish humor.

When he yielded the stage to singer-songwriter Steve Goodman early on, Goodman proceeded to make his part of the show a simply hilarious musical commentary on such subjects as nuclear fallout and women bikers. He concluded with a stirring version of his ''City of New Orleans.''

Spotlighted as well were a radiant Mimi Farina, Jennifer Warnes of ''Up Where We Belong'' fame, and pianist David Buskin.

Ultimately, of course, it was for Tom Rush that so many crowded Symphony Hall for this two-night engagement. His blend of clear-eyed sincerity, ironic humor, and strong, feeling vocals satisfied fully.

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