Variety Playhouse, Atlanta • September 28, 1998
Elliott Smith’s been fooling everybody.
All those quiet songs, all the mumbling apologies during live shows, that image of the unwashed sensitive loner; it’s all been a pretense. But now, playing with a band (though minimal) behind his major label debut, XO, the secret’s out. Elliott ROCKS. And I think he’s known it all along.
People who only arrived in time to see “the guy from the Good Will Hunting soundtrack” missed a phenomenal opening act, Quasi. This two-piece consists of Janet Weiss (ex-Sleater Kinney) on drums and Sam Coomes (ex-Heatmiser) on guitar and keyboards, but close your eyes and you’d never know it was just two. Simple pop melodies laid over a pounding one-two beat and the noisy sonic wash of the Rocksichord (an amazing instrument with a super-distorted keyboard sound), as their voices blended and harmonized neatly. The sound was full, unique and amazing — imagine Ben Folds Five singing the Stones playing “Heartbreaker,” and you’ll have some idea.
Elliott Smith joined Quasi on bass for two songs, then switched to guitar for another two, giving a hint of what was to come. During the last song, Sam and Janet traded riffs while Sam climbed all over the fossil keyboard, even hanging underneath it at one point (maybe to check the oil?).
Since the bands were sharing members, the set change was quick; fifteen minutes or so later Elliott Smith took the stage, backed up by Janet and Sam (this time playing bass, as he did when he and Smith were in Heatmiser). Opening with “Independence Day,” the set was a dozen and a half songs taken mainly from XO and Either/Or (nothing from Elliott Smith). Fleshed out by bass and drums, these weren’t the songs of a lonely misfit, they were beautiful and energetic pop ballads. This was an entirely different show than his recent solo gig at a much smaller Atlanta venue, even the trademark wool hat was missing.
They finished with his standard “Division Day” and “2:45 AM,” but after a short time Elliott took the stage alone and fell back into his old habits. The crowd started calling out requests, and he responded typically “sorry, I can’t play that one on this guitar.” The quiet, humble Smith was back, but it was too late — his cover had been blown.
Two encores later — including George Harrison’s “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” — the show was over. Congratulations, Elliott. You rock.