Elliott Smith was a prolific songwriter, emotional folk singer and one of the defining soloists of 1990s indie. He released five LPs and eventually went on to gain mainstream adoration, but his career was cut tragically short when he died in 2003. Thanks to a devoted listenership and his label Kill Rock Stars, who’ve curated several posthumous releases, his spirit and music live on.
Smith passed way on Oct. 21, 2003, three years after releasing his fifth studio album, Figure 8. Five years prior to his death, he was on the heels of four album releases and an Oscar nomination for his song “Miss Misery,” which appeared on the Good Will Hunting soundtrack in 1997. Smith was on the rise throughout the mid-90s, gaining both adoration and acclaim for his deeply emotional lyrics and lo-fi acoustic stylings.
These recordings from October 1998 recall Smith at his career high. Though New York City’s Tramps wasn’t the most spacious of venues, it was beloved and storied, much like the artists who performed there. At the time of this show, Smith had just released his fourth studio album, XO, and he played several of those tracks for this Tramps audience, including fan favorite “Waltz #2.” He opens with “Angeles” and later plays “Between the Bars” and “Say Yes,” all then-rising hits from his 1997 album Either/Or. Smith treated attendees to a 22-song set, which remain today in these recordings a slice of Elliott Smith history.
At this particular performance, Smith, who was an outspoken fan of The Beatles, also produced a rare cover of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” from Imagine. Paste’s Hilary Saunders writes of his version: “Smith trades Lennon’s higher-pitched piano tinkling for a lower, darker guitar strumming, but the musical sparseness and lonely sentiments parallel across both versions. And even though Smith doesn’t quite nail the whistling solo, he adds some self-deprecating banter mid-effort to the gleeful, supporting cheers of the audience.” Read more about that rare cover here.
You can listen to Elliott Smith’s October 1998 New York City show below. For more Elliott Smith, revisit our roundup of his best songs here.