“OK here’s the story. I used to work for Guitar Center in Roseville MN. (suburb of Minneapolis) I worked in the guitar dept. I can’t remember the day of the week it was off the top of my head (Oct 2002), all I remember was we were tidying up the store because we were getting ready to close. I was in the acoustic room on top of a latter hanging guitars on the wall when two of my co-workers burst in and said “Aaron, Dude, Elliott Smith is in the accessory department!” They knew I was a HUGE fan. I immediately jumped off the latter and ran out there hoping to at least catch a glimpse of him. Lucky for me he was still there.
At GC they have someone stationed at the door to check receipts as people leave to make sure they’re not stealing. I asked the person at the door if I could check “that dudes” receipt when he leaves. He said sure. (I later explained why) He came up to the podium I took his receipt, and checked his bag. He bought a Shubb Capo, and a set of Elixir acoustic guitar strings. My heart was pounding when I simply asked him “Are you playing in town tonight?” He said “Yeah at the 400 Bar, it’s a last minute thing.” I didn’t say the typical “you’re Elliott Smith!” I heard he had a reputation of giving people the boot if they freaked out on him.
I got on the phone immediately after he left and called some friends to let them know he was playing a surprise show at the 400 that night. I have a lot of friends that are hardcore Elliott fans. Once a year the 400 Bar had a surprise “fly in” show, and that year it was Elliott Smith. Others include Bright Eyes etc. I’m not sure if they still do that. Anyway….. I headed down there with my group of friends and we managed to be some of the first people in line! The doors opened and we were in! I planted myself firmly in front of the stage. Dead center. I didn’t move for the rest of the night. A horrid college band played before him. I remember turning around and suddenly the place was packed to absolute capacity. Remember this was an unannounced surprise show. People were yelling at the band saying things like “please get off the stage” “hurry up!”. People were just so excited to see Elliott in such an intimate environment. They finished and tore their equipment down. And about 15 minutes later Elliott Smith came out with his acoustic guitar freshly restrung with the strings he bought earlier at my work place! He played for what seemed like hours, I wanna say at least two. He seemed really happy. The crowed was absolutely enthused and acted like they were at a Metallica concert! We cheered after every song and he had a smile the size of Texas on his face. Which was strange for a lot of people because in most pictures of him he just has a blank expression. There’s a lot of funny moments I remember from the show. Someone hollered out “play this song, or that song” I remember Elliott saying “I need a pick for that one” “does anybody have a pick?” My friend Joe was standing next to me and reached into his pocket and pulled out a quarter and handed it to him. Elliott said “No that’s too English.” To this day I have no idea what that meant, but that was Elliott. He had a bunch of full Budweiser bottles sitting in front of him, as well as double shots of Jameson Irish whiskey. Towards the end of the set I took one of his beers and drank it. He didn’t seem to mind. My friend actually tried to buy him a shot of Jameson, but was refused. The bartender said the only bottle they had left was reserved for Elliott. Which I thought was kind of funny because while he was onstage he asked the bartender if there was a way he could get another double. The place was so packed that the bartender could barely make his way up there. His girlfriend was there too. He asked if there were any songs we’d like to hear. I said “play everything reminds me of her”, and his girlfriend was standing on the side of the stage and said “No don’t play that one!” Ever since then I assumed that song was obviously written for or about someone else, and she couldn’t handle that. he finished his set and came back and did two encores. Right when he came out for the first one I snatched his set list! He had written what he was going to play for the encore on the list and looked perplexed when he noticed that it was no longer on the stage. I felt bad and put it back up there for a little while. He ended up doing requests, so I just took it back. I’ve had it in my fire safe ever since.
I’ll never forget the night. It was a life changing event seeing him in rare form. He seemed happy……. RIP Elliott Smith.”