This August, Kill Rock Stars will release a 25th anniversary edition of Elliott Smith’s self-titled album, and it comes with a special treat: a previously unreleased live album called Live at Umbra Penumbra. Today, the label has shared the first track from that ’90s-era concert recording, “Some Song”.
“Some Song” originally appeared on the Needle in the Hay 7-inch that was released January 1995. However, Live at Umbra Penumbra was recorded in Portland on September 17th, 1994, so this version of the track actually predates the studio release. The live recording begins with Smith telling the room, “Got a rock song I’d like to play,” which is rather ironic because the tune is entirely acoustic, soft-sung, and intimate.
It wasn’t until his 1997 record Either/Or that he’d add drums and more traditional “rock” instrumentation to his arrangements, but this flawless and intensely emotional performance was an early sign of his grander musical ambitions to come. Stream it below via its lyric video, which features a previously unseen photograph of Smith snapped by close friend JJ Gonson.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Gonson spoke about her love of the photo,
“In this shot, the hot cup from Coffee People and the wet streets tell a story; I love the way the diffuse light hits his shoulders, the top of his hands, and his hair, emphasizing the bright colors,” Gonson says. “This is a photo that satisfies me artistically, still there is no way I’m not going to notice that I am fully focused on a subject to whom I am emotionally tied. So, at the end of the day, I am happy to see him. I miss him, and I hope that I am going to help people to see the goofy, puppy-like Elliott that I remember.”
Live At Umbra Penumbra is the earliest known recording of the late Smith performing solo. Bootlegged versions of the set have been floating around the internet for years, but this official release was produced and engineered by Larry Crane, the official archivist for the Smith family. Considering Crane was rendering these recordings from a 25-year-old cassette of the show, the sound quality of “Some Song” and the previously released “Big Decision” is quite stunning.
Elliott Smith: Expanded 25th Anniversary Edition is officially out August 28th, and you can purchase your copy here.