The Coolest-Ever Elliott Smith Show in Nashville

Editor’s Note: “Underground Nashville” covers artists, authors, musicians, poets, political figures, and other compelling people and happenings not typically covered by the mainstream Nashville media. It also presents reflections and commentary from an underground/indie perspective. As I told ‘The Tennessean’ in 2008, “since moving to Nashville twenty-five years ago, I have met people whose lives do not remotely reflect the caricature of what many outside our city presume to be a ‘Nashvillian’ or the Nashville experience. “Underground Nashville” thus explores the soul of the city, not its surface—offering “thoughts from the shadows of a great American city.”

Dave Carew

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The Coolest-Ever Elliott Smith Show in Nashville

By Dave Carew

You’ve heard of artists and athletes who are so cool and powerful they’re described as “lights out.” And you’ve heard of “unplugged” concerts. Well, the all-time coolest Elliott Smith show in Nashville, which took place the night of May 9, 2000, was LITERALLY “lights out” and LITERALLY “unplugged.”

Here’s what happened: Elliott was touring with an L.A.-based stoner band called Whiskey Biscuit. At 8 or 9 p.m. that night, Whiskey Biscuit opened the show, performing their entire set perfectly normally, although their lead singer looked like he was going to nod off at any moment.

Then, just moments before Elliott Smith was to hit the stage, a mini-disaster struck. The entire venue (the now-defunct 328 Performance Hall) went absolutely PITCH BLACK…as in, absolutely no lights whatsoever. Then, as hundreds of us stood in utter darkness, we suddenly saw a candle being lighted on stage….then another…then another. In the next moment, the short, thin, fragile-looking silhouette—then body—of Elliott Smith could be seen, and he was suddenly talking to us.

“Everyone,” he said, “please move as close to the stage as you can, and I’ll sing as loud as I can for you.”  We were about to see an Elliott Smith concert as Elliott might have presented it in your living room—with only his guitar, and without any amplification whatsoever. And the crowd didn’t mind in the least. As a matter of fact, it was as if the crowd enjoyed it MORE, because most of us were standing so close to Elliott, and because he was performing with such a gentle, generous spirit.

He went on to present everything from older classics like “Waltz #2” to new (then) songs such as “Everything Means Nothing to Me” . . . which resulted in the concert’s most touching moment, as dozens of girls spontaneously broke out singing the tune’s beautiful, ascending chorus.

The lights never came back on…and Elliott Smith never played Nashville again. (He died just three years later, at the age of 34.) It was, for me and many others I’m sure, far and away the most memorable and poignant concert we’ve ever witnessed.

May you rest in peace, Elliott.

David M. (Dave) Carew is editor of “Underground Nashville” and the author of the novels “Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville” and “Voice from the Gutter.” He also is a freelance publicist and copywriter.

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One Response to “The Coolest-Ever Elliott Smith Show in Nashville”

  1. Jeff Says:

    I was at that show, and in fact the power DID come back on, and he played electric with the band for about half an hour!

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