On September 17, 1994, Elliott Smith strummed through a bare, near-haunting performance of his “junkie dream” tale of “Some Song” at a little cafe in Portland, Oregon, the city he called home at the time. Live from Umbra Penumbra is the earliest known recording of Smith performing live as a solo artist, and gives a glimpse into his tortured storytelling as well as his lighter side in the previously unreleased recording. Nearly seventeen years after Smith’s untimely death on Oct. 21, 2003, the show, in its entirety, is being heard for the first time in twenty-six years.
“Some Song” is just one piece of Elliott Smith: Expanded 25th Anniversary Edition (Kill Rock Stars), out August 28, which includes a remastering of his self-titled, second album and the Live from Umbra Penumbra bonus disc. Both records are housed in an expansive coffee book full of never-before-seen images of the artist shot by JJ Gronson, the former manager of Smith’s band, reminiscences from friends and colleagues, and handwritten lyrics,
Off Smith’s 2007 compilation, New Moon, “Big Decision,” also from the Umbra show, was released in May. The entire performance was unearthed from an old, high-quality cassette tape recording of the 1994 gig belonging to Casey Cryne, which was cleaned up by the Smith family estate archivist, producer and engineer Larry Crane, who sifted through cassettes, DAT tapes, reels and files to capture the earliest pieces of Smith’s solo life. “When people hear what I was able to extract from this original tape,” says Crane, “they’ll be shocked.”
While “Some Song” and the remainder of the Umbra performance show the gut-wrenching first sparks of an artist before his ill-fated time, it also offers a peek at a more joking, goofier Smith.
“His magic as a solo performer and as a writer of songs for simply guitar and voice with little or no accompaniment,” Slim Moon, founder, Kill Rock Stars, who first signed Smith for his 1995 single, “Needle in the Hay” and Elliott Smith. “I also really want him to be remembered for his humor, warmth, and absurdist sense of irony.”
Listen to “Some Song” (Live at Umbra Penumbra) below.