ELLIOTT SMITH, at the Phoenix, May 23. Tickets: $17. Attendance: 900. Rating: NNN
You can't blame Elliott Smith for not straying too far from the familiar at the Phoenix Tuesday.
The now-L.A.-based singer/songwriter's new Figure 8 disc is an orchestral pop triumph, heavy on the strings and church bells. He'd be a fool to reduce the swollen songs to quaint folk sing-alongs.
Smith shot for a purposefully big sound, though he stuck with a three-piece support band rather than lugging out the full orchestra. A keyboard player reworked the string sounds and Smith turned his guitar up to fill the room.
If anything, it was almost too close to the record. As tight as they sounded, new songs like Junk Bond Trader and Son Of Sam were almost indistinguishable from their recorded versions, and even with Smith's famously low stage energy, he and his bassist still managed to nail perfect vocal harmonies.
It wasn't until his solo encore that the songwriter shook up his set. Stripped of their embellishments, the acoustic tracks sounded looser and more relaxed than their impeccably rehearsed electric counterparts.
The strength of his songwriting is underlined by the fact that Smith can send his hired guns away, haul out the acoustic and still silence the room.