Earlier this year, Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield released an elegant album of Elliot Smith covers, “Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith“. We were able attend the last concert in support of their album. Derrick snapped the pics. Erin wrote the piece. Enjoy!
It’s only fitting that Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield ended their 13 date Elliott Smith tribute concert tour in Los Angeles. After all, LA is the city where Elliott Smith’s own life came to a tragic end. It’s hard to believe that it has been more than a decade since he passed away. Both, because his songs feel as relevant today as they did the day he penned them and, because even now, the mention of his death causes unsettled feelings to emerge for anyone who knows his story. He was the epitome of that enigmatic star whose light burned brightly but faded much too soon. His music poignantly conveying those emotions so many lesser artists struggled to put into words.
Although both Avett and Mayfield’s pure vocals seem a perfect fit for Smith’s arrangements, it was hard to imagine such an exuberant performer as Avett slowing down enough to really capture the melancholy that pervades so much of Smith’s work. But any concerns were quickly dismissed as the duo took the stage. The reverence that both Avett and Mayfield have for Smith’s work was evident from the first chords, and they quickly found a way to seamlessly merge their own personal styles with that of Smith’s.
Accompanied by bassist Paul Defiglia, the duo made themselves at home on stage in a set that looked like an lived in kitchen, complete with tattered wallpaper and children’s drawings on the fridge, their arsenal of acoustic guitars blending in with the other furniture surrounding them.
This passion project was born out of a conversation the pair had three years ago about their shared love of Elliott Smith when Avett discovered that Mayfield’s dog Elliott, was in fact named after this Elliott. As the evening unfolded, each of them shared personal anecdotes of defining moments in their journey as Elliot Smith super fans, each tale letting the audience in on just how important this project was for each of them.
Mayfield’s best story came before their cover of “Ballad of Big Nothing” from Either/Or when she joked that this song had been stuck in her head for four years straight, and she admitted that she uses this song to answer any question posed to her. “You can do what you want to, whenever you want to.” Avett’s most humorous tale came before “Someone that I used to know,” when he joked that he once got very mad at Gotye for ripping Smith off, before discovering that Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner had recorded a song of the same name decades earlier, quipping, that’s when he realized that everybody has somebody that they used to know.
The concert may have been titled ‘An Evening of Elliott Smith,’ the night was so much more. While the Smith classics they recorded for their tribute album provided the backbone of the concert, the set list was peppered with a few of their own original compositions (Seth’s “Rain On My Tin Roof” and “The Beginning” and Jessica’s “For Today” and “Standing In The Sun”), as well as songs from the greats who inspired them all. From Neil Young and Bob Dylan (“Just Like A Woman”), to Hank Williams (“Settin’ The Woods On Fire” and the Beatles (“I Will” and George Harrison’s “I’ll Me Mine”), the duo carefully chose covers that held both meaning to them and Smith, further adding to the intimacy of the evening. The audience was even treated to a special performance of “Sound of the Season”, a song that Seth indicated that he had never played live before.
As the night wore on and their set came to an end, they closed the night with the song that began this joint adventure, their very first Smith cover ‘Twilight.” And while the night was a somber reminder of a brilliant talent whose life was cut too short, Avett and Mayfield showed that, unlike the tattered wallpaper on the set behind him, Smith’s music is standing the test of time. And with talents like Mayfield and Avett willing to take chances on passion projects like this, the audience was assured that the state of American singer songwriting is alive and well.