top: Elliott Smith at Waterloo Records, 9/98; bottom: poster for the Steamboat show (Photo By Todd V. Wolfson)
Elliott SmithSteamboat, May 3, 2003
"I need to write more pleasant songs," admitted Elliott Smith late one night in early May. He smiled and shook his head and continued strumming his Siren strings, pulling us closer to his rocky shore. He made believe that all was well in his world. Any rumors of his poor health and mind-set were dismissed with the opening chords of "Happiness," off 2000's Figure 8
. "What I used to be will pass away, and then you'll see that all I want now is happiness for you and me." He sang of memories and parades, heaven and love, knowledge and justification. But then there was the hopelessness of a new tune, "Strung Out Again," as well as Either/Or
's anxious "Say Yes," the song that vocalizes every surprise and disappointment felt by a lost soul and those that understand him. "I'm damaged bad at best," he explained. Cousins "Between the Bars" and "Waltz #2" followed suit. Smith's final visit to Austin was in tribute to friend and musician Glynn Allen Owens, who had recently died. The man-boy with slouched shoulders sat alone on the edge of the Steamboat stage, bathing in the blue lights that drenched his greasy dark hair, whispering his deepest secrets into the mic. He stuttered and paused, blushed and squirmed. All five of his full-length albums made an appearance during the set, alongside the one unreleased and hopefully still on the way. Basement on the Hill
was all but complete according to Smith. This was going to be the album. However it's deciphered postmortem, Basement
brought joy and awe on that night. Two encores into the performance, Smith returned one last time to say goodbye to his Austin legion. Keeping in stride with his penchant for covers, he chose a fitting one -- although we didn't know it at the time. "Blackbird singing in the dead of night ..." Then he was gone. Our Odysseus untied himself from the mast and went the way of the Sirens. There's a hole where he once sailed. A tribute to Elliott Smith will take place Sunday, Nov. 2, at Trophy's, 2008 S. Congress.