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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Smith's Whispers Resonate With an Intense Energy

January 26, 1998|SARA SCRIBNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sometimes rock works best when it is whispered, and perhaps no one knows this better than Elliott Smith. The Portland, Ore.-based singer-songwriter at the Largo on Saturday was hushed and quiet, but his set still delivered the heft and energy of the best rock.

Still mainly an underground figure, Smith has been gaining momentum with his strong presence on the soundtrack for the film "Good Will Hunting" and his excellent 1997 album "Either / Or."

His resonant buzz was obvious by the appearance in the audience of Billy Corgan, Marilyn Manson and John Doe, as well as the size of the turnout itself. After half the crowd couldn't get in, Smith played an unplanned second set.

Smith, a slight man with dyed black hair and a tattoo, spent most of his show hunched over his acoustic guitar, concentrating on songs that carried the dark folk undertones of Nick Drake and the poetic bite of Kurt Cobain.

Like soft imprints of moods and feelings, songs such as "Alameda," a tune that pierces through the fog of self-pity, and "Angeles," a number on the "Good Will Hunting" soundtrack with a slippery meaning and acerbic edge, carried a wispy mystery and an angry punch.

Local musician Jon Brion lightened the mood on a surprisingly adept, impromptu version of the Left Banke's 1966 hit "Walk Away Renee." Mostly, though, this bare-bones set was simply Smith, a man with no quirky gimmick, no fierce indie pose, just an intense, thoughtful singer armed with truly great songs.

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