Smith Rocks Warfield

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If you stayed home to watch Monday Night Football this week, you missed

out on a fine show at the Warfield. Then again, if sweaty, gruff gridiron

action is what you go for, you probably weren't waiting in line to see

indie sweethearts Elliott Smith and Grandaddy anyway. Hope you enjoyed the

game, because I, along with the rest of the frail, fey, four-eyed bunch

that braved Market Street, had an absolute ball.

Those who arrived early for the show were treated to an

understated spectacle of sight and sound. The stage was dressed to the

nines in autumnal detritus, with flowers and vines decorating the rafters

and pre-amps. The crowd oohed and ahhed at video footage of a roadie trying

to drink an entire gallon of milk, and then consequently barfing it up in

slow-motion glory. The crowd let down its mod pretensions for a fleeting

moment, guffawing like teenagers.

Moments later, a string dropped from the heavens. A member of

the stage staff attached a motorized paper bird to the string and set it

into perpetual circular flight. At this point, Grandaddy emerged from the

leafy rubble and took their positions. Jason Lytle and his band did not

bother with introductions, or even a paltry "Hello, San Francisco!"

Grandaddy's performance was short and sweet. They scattered a

few older songs in with a set composed mostly of songs from their most

recent album, The Sophtware Slump. Their mix of fragile guitar pop and

spacey loops and synths, combined with Lytle's wee, Doug Martsch-esque

vocals, wafted through the air like the smell of mom's freshly baked apple

pie. Speaking of baked, as the set progressed, the smell of a certain

illegal leafy odor grew more and more noticeable. The audience stood

transfixed, some by the performers, many others by the mechanical bird.

A mere 45 minutes later, Grandaddy disappeared with nary a breath, and

the crew cleared away the autumnal set, stripping the stage bare. Smith

emerged like a dirty, greasy little butterfly, creeping hesitantly to the


His band took its places, and they set things off with an old

tune, "Needle In The Hay." This was not quite the same song as the album

version, with its whispered confessionals. Instead, Smith re-imagined it as

a rock anthem, with strong electric chords taking the place of the picked

acoustic ones. This was the general rule for the entire set. While Smith

may have made a name for himself as a folk-rock crooner, his last two

albums have embraced a more rock-oriented production. This set, though

composed of both new material and old, was seamlessly up-tempo. Songs like

"Clementine" and "Big Nothing" - once subtle acoustic odes - shone with the

same pop luster as current songs like "Son of Sam" and "Waltz #2."

Smith, decked out in a ridiculous Hank Williams Jr. T-shirt and

pre-embryonic, sleazy moustache, ripped through each song with sweaty

fervor. "Bled White" had the crowd of hip zombies actually moving and

tapping their feet a bit and "Independence Day" was an absolute gem.

Perhaps the best song of the set was "Happiness." The song began harmlessly

enough, in a bright major key. It built to its sing-along chorus, soaring

like a pocket symphony until the song downshifted mid-sentence to a whisper

and a drumbeat, with Smith cracking a self-satisfied smile.

After a short intermission, Smith re-appeared. Knowing

perfectly well that a large contingent of his fans was there to hear the

old Elliott Smith, he surfaced without his band, and began the encore. His

intricate picking and intense, crackling vocals on "Say Yes" and "The White

Lady Loves You More" elicited sighs and swoons from the crowd. After Smith

bid the crowd goodnight, the house lights repeatedly threatened to turn on,

as if commanding the audience to cheer. Concert-goers erupted, screaming

for more.

Of course, the crowd got what it wanted. Smith, cigarette and

Budweiser in hand, trotted back out. For the second encore, he brought out

his band-mates and plugged back in. The first song was a rousing rendition

of "Pinball."

For the final song of the night, Smith brought Grandaddy

onstage. As a giant swansong, both bands played a cover of George

Harrison's "My Sweet Lord." Smith proclaimed that many of the performers on

stage had only learned the song earlier that day, and it showed. Some of

the members of Grandaddy actually read the lyrics off of pieces of notebook

paper, and there were many sly grins. The song rose to a repeated chant of

"Krishna, Krishna / Hare Krishna," a tongue-in-cheek reference to

Harrison's own performance of the song at the Concert for Bangladesh. The

bands laughed with each other like friends having a blast, Smith included.

This was quite a different Smith from the dour, despondent man of two

tours ago. He seemed to brim with energy, happy to be making music the way

he wants to make it. We should all be so lucky.


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