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Pop Music Review

Elliott Smith's Tour Ends on Effusive Note

November 16, 2000|NATALIE NICHOLS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Introverted singer-songwriter Elliott Smith may be an indie-rock hero, but his Tuesday concert at the Wiltern Theatre had a distinct classic-rock feel, right down to the faithful rendition of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" that closed the show.

Backed by a band playing guitar, keyboards, bass and drums, Smith sang and played guitar for an adoring crowd that was enraptured by every note. He allowed himself to bask in this glow, apparently more comfortable being a true cult figure than the accidental mainstream-fringe act he became in 1997 when he earned a best-song Oscar nomination for his tune "Miss Misery," from the movie "Good Will Hunting."

Maybe he was just happy that it was the last night of his tour, but the low-key Smith was practically effusive, exhorting listeners to stand up, and later teasing them about how many songs were left to play.

He drew the almost 90-minute set from his current album, "Figure 8," as well as four earlier collections. Ranging from a fuzzy sprawl not unlike early Crazy Horse to a rollicking folkiness that recalled the more acoustic moments in David Bowie's '70s catalog, the music sounded lusher than in Smith's previous performances.

His thin tenor was less pained as he sang wistfully of romance, self-loathing and elusive happiness, but his voice sometimes got lost behind the bigger rock of it all. The set's grander gestures also tended to obscure his confessional style.

The grainy film backdrop seemed gimmicky behind Smith, although it had perfectly fit the heartland freak-rock of opening act Grandaddy. The Modesto-born quintet's 45-minute set was like a spacey movie itself, complete with incidental music between numbers, which veered from buzzing psychedelia to angular, driving pop.

The bolder instrumentation of Smith's music brought variety to his songs, which to the less faithful can sound repetitive after a while. Yet he was most emotionally affecting with a brief solo acoustic turn during the encore, which emphasized the sense of isolation that forms the core of his appeal.

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