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Elliott Smith remembered in song

CAMBRIDGE -- Leave it to the late Elliott Smith to keep a packed bar as quiet as an empty bedroom.


As fans braved the bitter cold on Sunday afternoon and filed into T.T. the Bear's Place to toast the honey-tongued folk singer, there was a tangible feeling that those who adored Smith and kept his music fiercely guarded in their hearts were ready to grieve and share en masse. To many, Smith's death acted as a visceral reminder that the depression he often expounded on in verse was painfully real.

After grabbing rounds of drinks, audience members sat on the main room floor to view footage of Smith that featured the appropriately titled documentary "Strange Parallel." Performances from "Saturday Night Live," Smith's notorious appearance at the 1998 Oscars (wearing a white tuxedo and sandwiched between Trisha Yearwood and Celine Dion), and home videos from longtime friend and songwriting companion Mary Lou Lord were also shown. During the films, those old enough to be Smith's parents mourned and occasionally laughed alongside somber teenagers.

Smith, who died in October of an apparent suicide at 34, was widely recognized as a preternaturally gifted songwriter and emotionally stirring vocalist who scarcely sang above a whisper. At the time of his death, Smith was working on his sixth solo album, tentatively titled "From a Basement on the Hill." A memorial concert held in November at the Henry Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles was followed by tributes in Nashville, Indianapolis, and

Baltimore to benefit the Elliott Smith Foundation for Abused Children. "This is my gift to Elliott. It's all that I knew to do," said the kindly and demure Lord, who acted as a curator and ringleader of Sunday's event.

Following the video segment, a wide roster of individuals of varying talent took a Smith song (sometimes two), with each person putting his or her own spin on the track. Many of the performers learned of the tribute show through the message board found on the Smith repository (a site named after the opening song from Smith's "XO" album).

Beverly singer/songwriter Derek Rando paid homage to both Lord and Smith during his cover of "I Figured You Out." The song, written by Smith for Lord, was featured on her 1996 "Martian Saints" album and discusses a lover with a wandering eye. As Rando sang, a young girl leaned into her companion and wept gently.

Given the large number of performers, the highlights were frequent. Standouts also included Baltimore's Brickfoot doing a raucous cover of "Cupid's Trick," Emergency Music's polite version of "Pictures of Me," and New Jersey's Dearly Departed playing hypnotic violin on "Waltz #2."

The final song of the evening came as an impromptu collaboration between Jeff Patlingrao and Lord. The two alternated lines from the Oscar-nominated "Say Yes" from "Good Will Hunting," also the final song on Smith's third album, "Either/Or." Patlingrao, a Hampshire College student with a jet-black mop of tousled hair, strummed as Lord cradled the microphone and cooed. Knowing this was the final song of the evening, several members of the audience closed their eyes and sang along.

Afterward, before the houselights flooded the room, Lord reassured everyone affected by the void Smith left behind.

"Elliott's here," she said. "Don't you worry."

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