“Dude, I can’t feel, like, the left half of my hand…”

Tonight was the A&O Ball, the annual big spring concert that my college puts on someplace downtown. This year it was Wilco and Elliott Smith. I’m a pretty big fan of both, since both feature highly excellent songwriting and kickass production on record. Smith opened and Wilco was the main act. Wilco fucking rocked, but Smith…Suffice it to say that I have been to around 75 concerts and this was the single weirdest concert experience I have ever had.

Smith came out, solo, looking immensely stoned, and immediately mumbled something about the fact that he couldn’t feel half of his left hand. He said that he had been sleeping on it on the airplane and when he woke up, he couldn’t feel his ring or pinky fingers, or that half of the rest of his hand, and hadn’t been able to do so for at least a few hours.

For non-guitarists, allow me to explain what a problem this is: the left hand is used by right handed guitarists to place the fingers on the strings, thus creating the notes that you hear from the guitar. If you cannot feel (and thus have difficulty controlling) your fingers, then you have a serious problem. The ring and index finger going numb is a particular impediment for someone with Smith’s style, since so much of what he does relies on complicated finger movements, mostly of the ring and index fingers to create harmonies.

So he attempted to play many songs. He actually managed to get through about five. He kept apologizing and retelling the story of how he couldn’t feel his hand. He also kept drinking a great deal of whiskey, as if this would make it easier for him to feel his hand, as opposed to a great deal more difficult.

At one point, a member of the audience asked to bum a smoke and Smith threw a pack of cigarrettes out into the crowd, on the condition that the guy give them back (which he eventually did, after taking like half the pack). Eventually, someone told him to wrap it up and they’d take him to the hospital to get his arm looked at. He managed to get off one final song, Fond Farewell. The lyrics seemed oddly appropriate:

It’s just a fond farewell to a friend

It’s not what I’m like

It’s just a fond farewell to a friend

Who couldn’t get things right

I felt really bad, mostly because he really seemed to feel shitty about the fact that he couldn’t do anything, but partly because I felt like he may have turned off some people who would otherwise like him. He really is a damn good musician when he’s not stoned and having serious physical problems…really!

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