Laura Gibson has been making music for 15 years now. During that time she has self-released a debut EP, collaborated with sound artist and composer Ethan Rose, worked with ballet and musical theatre groups and released five albums of carefully crafted songs that inhabits the overlapping spaces between modern alternative, folk and Americana music. It’s a fertile space for music lovers that she shares with some talented contemporaries such as Laura Veirs, Jolie Holland and Joan Shelley, and the evocative and compelling narratives of Gibson’s songs have earned her no shortage of praise. Tonight’s show at Glasgow’s Hug and Pint venue is her first in the city for some time, for which she admits to being a little sorry, and follows the Autumn 2018 release of her most recent album ‘Goners’.
On record Laura Gibson is backed by various musicians but tonight’s show is a strictly solo affair. She will occasionally use a loop station to weave individually simple piano and vocals into complex multi-layered soundscapes, with striking effect on the opening number ‘I Carry Water‘. Her voice has an intense clarity that acts to shock the system and grab your attention, heightening the senses and increasing the intensity of her songs. The effect is to hold the audience’s rapt attention, each song that follows feeling personal and intimate. The set continues with further songs from ‘Goners‘, although she would later admit that her written song list was more of a rough guide than a hard and fast plan as she performed whatever song she felt would fit the mood of the concert at any given point of the evening. ‘Slow Joke Grin‘ perfectly lays bare the abandonment of fear that love can inspire as Gibson sings “You with the diamond hands, the quick wit and sentences. I have no plans – you’re the only home I ever wanted.” ‘Domestication‘ is the fable of a wolf masquerading as a woman, alone in unfamiliar and uncertain surroundings and is prefaced with a story explaining the inspiration for the song – once abundant wolves slowly returning to Gibson’s home state of Oregon after decades of hunting. Her post-graduate study of fiction writing is clear in her adept storytelling but there’s just enough room to wonder how much she sees of herself in her fictitious wolf? A devastating fire at her New York apartment building forced Gibson to spend time living between friends in sometimes unfamiliar surroundings and having to rebuild her life from a position of uncertainty.
‘Clemency’ is a particular stand out amongst a set of exceptional songs. Normally featuring piano, Gibson announces that she wants to play the song exclusively on guitar to see how it sounds. The result is haunting, making her lyrics even more poignant. As she sings “The air becomes a darker share of ominous,” the effect becomes spine tingling. There’s room for a little levity amongst the raw emotional beauty of her performance. She jokes that throughout the touring and associated interviews for her latest album, one particular translation of the title – condemned – lacks the dark humour that goners would convey. There’s room too for some older songs as the artist explains the inspiration for the exceptional ‘Empire Builders‘. Its the name of the train that took her on her cross country journey from her Oregon home to her post-graduate study in New York and as the hours passed and the landscape changed, Gibson came to terms with the enormity of the new challenges she was about to face.
She asks the crowd if we’re happy to dispense with the usual convention on encores and tells us that she often feels a knot in her stomach on leaving a stage, wondering whether or not the audience would want her to come back to perform another couple of songs? Instead she closes her set with a trio of songs, including ‘The Rushing Dark‘ where artist and crowd become one to share a unique and deeply moving moment. It’s a fine end to a night filled with smart, affecting and beguiling songs from a supremely talented singer, songwriter and storyteller.