New York Beacon Theater

Reports of [a]Elliott Smith[/a]'s moroseness have been greatly exaggerated...

Reports of Elliott Smith's

moroseness have been greatly exaggerated, if we're using tonight's show as a yardstick.. How else to explain the fact that, halfway through his set, he grins and

nnounces: "Now we're going to bring out some dancers!" and,

instead of short-skirted go-go girls, out come two regular guys

who look like Elliott's next-door neighbours and who proceed to

frug wildly. Or that for an encore he does a straight-faced

version of Blue Oyster Cult's 'Don't Fear the Reaper' - stripped

of its bombast to find the wistful la-la-la-la-la pop song within,

but also featuring a cheeky appearance from a grooved-out,

sickle-bearing representation of Death itself?

Elliott Smith has obviously stopped feeling obliged to live up to

his rep as indie rock's brokenhearted, woolly-hatted boy wonder.

Two-and-a-half years after 'Miss Misery' and an Academy Award

nomination made him an unlikely media star, nobody's calling

him the Next Big Thing anymore. And now that he's no longer

under the glare of global spotlights - but still possessing a

large, loyal fanbase - he seems more relaxed, freer to explore

his smart, Beatle-tinged pop with abandon. Of course, not

everyone's pleased with this development; at one point a

jokester in the crowd, noting the show's corporate-sponsorship

banners, yells "Judas!" Smith simply laughs and retorts, "Ah,

you're just saying that to get on the live album."

Yet with this unprecedented freedom, it's perplexing that tonight

Smith chooses to shunt most of his songs -- from lush,

string-enhanced 'Figure 8' pieces like 'Happiness' to

spiderweb-shadow 'Either/Or' tracks like 'Ballad of Big Nothing'

-- into conventional alt-rockin' structures. He and his tight'n'loud

three-piece band often come off as just another hipster rock

group, riffing away while abstract and arty films spool behind


What saves them from typicalness, of course, is the fact that

Smith's songs are far above average, even when they're

disguised in ironic gas-station-attendant clothes. And when he

strips away the rock trappings -- as on the sweetly delicate 'In

the Lost and Found'
and 'Say Yes' - the results can still be


And no matter what he plays or how he plays it, Smith's shy but

friendly stage banter ensures he's got the crowd in his hands. At

one point he squints at the audience, all lounging in fluffy seats,

and sighs, "I can't really see you." One person spontaneously

stands up, then another, and soon all 2,000 or so folks on the

lower level have risen. After everyone then dances along to

'Independence Day', humming along with the song's chorus --

"You only live a day, but it's brilliant anyway" - Smith says, "Isn't

that much better?" Judging from the smiling folks surrounding

us, it would seem the answer is yes.

Lisa Gidley

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