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monday, october 5, paradise, boston, ma

steve

Elliott Smith is beautiful.

I doubt there's anyone on this list to whom that's a major revelation, but
it seems the first point that has to be made in any discussion of Elliott's
visit to Boston yesterday. And, it seems all the more foregrounded to this
writer at the moment since I've got my autographed color photo of Elliott
(xeroxed and enlarged out of the Pulse article shortly before I went to the
store yesterday) with the words "to Steve, [heart] Elliott" written in his
very own handwriting propped on my desk as I grope for words to describe
the experience of Elliott.

My first glimpse of him was through a doorway at Newbury Comix around five
o'clock yesterday afternoon. He looked pale and sleepy and was holding a
Starbucks cup from which he was swilling regularly. He was wearing a
purple t-shirt with a logo that read "The Pirate Batallion" on the front
and had words saying something like Excellence in Leadership on the back.
Underneath the t-shirt he was wearing a black tee with longer sleeves. I'm
pretty sure he was wearing long black trousers. His sloppy bangs hung over
his eyes and gave a wistful, little-boy look to his occasional wry grins
and the way he kept shutting his eyes and then opening them to glance from
side to side, almost like a kid in a mall checking out the scene.

The muted expressiveness of his face fascinated me and I found myself
wondering whether he might have some Icelandic blood somewhere in the
mists. From certain angles there's a sort of iconic, almost Japanese look
to his features--like an actor glimpsed in one of Sharaku's prints from the
1790's.

I knew from reading comments here that Elliott's been finding the in-stores
a real chore on this tour, and I wonder whether he'll ever do them again in
future tours. He actually mentioned early in the Newbury Comix appearance
that he has trouble getting going for late afternoon in-store performances
because he's just woken up at that time of the day and I guess he's still
getting it together. After he played Xtian Bros. I yelled "You're
beautiful, man!" spontaneously and he gave me a salty grin and said quietly
into the mike, "Thank you, I'm glad you think so."

There was a pause right after that song because somebody had passed out.
It was VERY hot in the store but I guess the kid might have had a sugar
rush or something. Or maybe the power of Christian Bros. got to him. It's
such an intense song--one of my favorites, and I got to hear him play it
twice in Boston! Thank you Elliott!

At another point in the performance (I think it was during "Between the
Bars") Elliott started coughing and had to stop singing. He kept strumming
the guitar though and said "I'm not gonna stop ... It's just one of those
f***in' days." I thought the raw edginess of his voice during the entire
performance was beautiful. There was a delicate tenderness to the way he
sang certain words that was very moving. In fact by the end of the concert
I was so overwhelmed by feelings that when I got in line to have him sign
my two homemade posters, I was too shakey inside to trust myself to do more
than thank him for his beautiful performance. He gave me one of his shy
smiles. I could tell he thought I was just a shade nutty. But I'm sure
it's disconcerting to go from having idols of your own to being one yourself!

I calmed myself down after the concert by riding my bike along the river
and then jotting down some notes. Much sooner than I thought it was time
to bike over to the Paradise. I arrived just as Sam and Janet had started
their set. I will leave it to others to review their performance. They
played with great enthusiasm and energy. Janet busted one of her drums
almost right after I walked into the door and Sam had to do a solo until
somebody fixed it or brought a replacement in from the bus. She mentioned
that she had banged a hole in her bass drum the last time she played
Boston. I'm afraid she must think our town is unlucky for her!

Elliott joined them to play bass for a few numbers towards the end of their
set. When he left, Janet thanked him for playing with them. Then she and
Sam played this incredible number that finished up with an orgasmic 2
minute slam-bang on the drums and keyboards that had the crowd howling with
delight.

After a fifteen minute or so break, Elliott came back on with Janet and
Sam, and started his set. He opened up with Independence Day, a guaranteed
crowd pleaser that had me hopping with delight. I noticed that everybody
responded to the music in their own way. A lot of the kids were very cool,
just standing and listening. Unlike during Sam and Janet's set, people
were mostly quiet and attentive. There were some young women (girls,
really, I guess) who were VERY excited and shrieking with a falsetto verve
that made me think it was 1964 again and the Beatles had just landed.

Elliott seemed very different to me, both from the previous time when I had
seen him at the Middle East last April, and earlier that day in the store.
On both of those appearances, he was low-key, relaxed, and a bit chatty.
In the Paradise he was ... harder edged, somehow, and the music had been
recast to reflect Janet's muscly, rippling, superb drumming and Sam's
energetic bass riffs. Certain songs, like Bottle Up and Explode and I
Didn't Understand, felt COMPLETELY new. It was very exciting. The energy
got feverish at times. Elliott was like the still center of this storm,
his face calm, intense, sometimes furrowed up in thought or a brief flicker
of emotion, and other times, beaming with a sudden smile or a cute little
giggle he was sharing with Sam and Janet. I really liked the rapport
between the three of them. You can tell Janet really loves playing the
drums and enjoys the whole flow of the concerts. I enjoyed watching Sam
too. He's sort of a Heathcliff character--sorry, I'm thinking of the novel
Wuthering Heights here, not the comic strip. Rather dark and moody but
with his own flashes of passion, that jolted me sometimes when I was least
expecting them.

Elliott played acoustic guitar in the store, and he played electric, of
course, on stage, so I was treated to the full range of his extraordinary
talent. I was even more impressed this time around by his skill, his
inventiveness, and his playful virtuosity with the guitar. Vocally, he
seems at the peak of his powers. I was expecting his voice to sound a bit
ragged after all the touring, but he belted and crooned and sang with more
suppleness and brilliance than ever. You can tell, can't you, that I'm on
the verge of becoming a total groupie and just quitting my job to follow
him around the country. Maybe I'm missing something but it seems very rare
nowadays to find someone who has such passion and authenticity onstage as
he does.

I could write more but this is already VERY long. If folks are interested
I could write more about the specific songs he played in each set. I
really liked the two new songs he played in this Boston concert, and the
arrangement of Give Me Love, Give Me Peace. Elliott's voice seems very
close in timbre to George Harrison's but he puts his own interpretation
into this familiar song. I guess the songs that impressed me the most were
Christian Brothers (which he me in tears both times--it was scorching in
the Paradise since his voice had come through and he could do the melismas
in the song at full throttle), Between the Bars, Pictures of Me, and I
Didn't Understand. In this last song he was alone on stage, and the light
was a dim blue, and Elliott's face was reflective and full of emotion.
Beautiful. Like I said at the beginning. The man is beautiful.

PS.

Some things I somehow forgot to include in my report on Elliott's visit to
Boston, that I feel like sharing with whomever's interested:

Elliott really was having some problems at the in-store performance at
Newbury Comix. Not only did somebody pass out, but Elliott's mike didn't
seem to be properly connected for the first few songs. At one point he
began strumming the intro to Southern Belle and then stopped and said, "No,
I won't make it through," to the amused indulgence of the audience. He
started out at the very beginning with a song listed on the set list as
Stroke It, Noel; he stopped after a few lines and I had the impression that
he didn't feel up to the song, though somebody else in the crowd thought
Elliott stopped because Sam didn't know it.

After he played The White Lady Loves You More he smiled and murmured, "That
was actually kind of fun." (It was actually a beautiful, pristine
performance of the song.) The brawny, smiling jock-looking guy behind me
really, really wanted him to play Rose Parade. Elliott teased him for
awhile, making him think he was going to play the song, and then played St.
Ides Heaven (another favorite of mine). He then announced that he was
going to play a country song ... of sorts ... and said "I will not crack up
... I will not laugh ..." (I'm sure I'm not the only one who thought he
was going to play All My Rowdy Friends). I yelled at him, "Oh, go ahead
and laugh," and he smiled, and lots of people laughed. Then he started on
Bob Dylan's song, When I Paint My Masterpiece.

At the Paradise, a turning point in the set was when he launched into a
very dynamic, pulsing riff that turned out to be the intro to Bled White.
He practically peeled the paint off the walls with that number. Lots of
girls were shrieking. He got such a powerful response from the crowd with
this, and certain other songs. Like I said, it made me think of the
Beatles. Of course I don't go to concerts very much ...

There were people who were singing along to the lyrics, especially to all
the Either/Or songs. I even found myself singing along to Christian
Brothers towards the end of the concert. There was also this willowy young
man with delicate features and half-moon eyebrows (as the Chinese would
say) who was standing up on a table against the dark red wall a little to
the side of the stage where Elliott was standing. He was unreally serene
and intensely focused throughout the concert--somehow he made me think of
an image on an album cover. I began thinking of him as "Elliott Smith's
Muse" because he almost seemed like somebody so many of those songs could
have been written about: beautiful, fragile, unlucky in love. What can I
say--I like to spin stories....

Of the two new songs, "Stupidity Tries" and "Tom Starts" (?), I think I
prefer the latter, though they're both great songs. Tom Starts is the song
that starts "Activity is killing the actor" and concludes with the
koan-like chorus, "What I need to be will pass away and then you'll see /
And all I want now is happiness for you and me." Elliott and Sam and Janet
played it so movingly and made you feel the secret significance hidden away
behind the mysterious words. (Something I notice with Nick Drake's songs,
as well: the music itself contains clues to the riddles the bare words
seem to pose.)

I think it was the second time that Elliott was called back for encores,
that somebody jumped on stage for a hug. And Elliott threw his arms around
the guy and just held him with this look of bliss lighting up his face. It
was such a cosmic moment. I did wonder whether the guy was an old friend,
or a celebrity. At the concert in Cambridge last April, at the Middle
East, after Elliott played Thirteen, Alex Chilton got up on stage from
where he was standing and he and Elliott clasped hands and hugged briefly.

There are so many moods Elliott projects from the stage. Regret, longing,
despair, muted rage, slightly manic agitation ... and this abounding love,
that seems to just bloom from the stage in waves at certain moments. When he
sings, "Give me love, give me peace on earth," it's not just a plea, it's an
invocation.

xo Steve