And by "massive," I mean that quite literally as well -- do not be fooled by the fact that her too-quiet performance at 2008's SXSW inspired NPR's "Tiny Desk Concerts" (apparently after being drowned out by "the din of a yappy crowd," the two NPR music reporters present requested she give a private do-over at their office in D.C. three weeks later, just so they could hear her).
I may have a personal aversion to all-things, as I call them, "tippy-toed" (for example, the sugary cuteness of monikers like "friendlies," "autumn song-singers," "accidental stumble-uponers," and, the too too cute "snowbunnies," as she addresses her blog-readers), but do not be fooled by her elven preciousness: Laura Gibson and her accompanying musicians radiate a sound and an energy with an orchestral power that is truly worthy of a concert hall. Yes, massive.
I will not bore you by listing my musical pedigree, as I don't have one, having abandoned my own musical training years ago (perhaps it was the trauma from the sudden and unexpected death of the nun who endeavored to teach my third-grade self how to play the piano, just minutes before my lesson, or perhaps I was just, well, unequipped); but in my pedestrian characterization, I would describe Laura Gibson's voice as deep, unique and edgy; metallic, but not tinny; range-capable and fully rounded out with a touch of the bluesy -- something I think all good lady singers need.
Even if her voice was more common or less hauntingly lovely (which is not the case), her band mates would surely make up for any dearth of richness. Her pianist / horn player John Whaley has the ability to grow tiny blips into ascending towers of sound (complete with the most beautiful trumpet notes weaving insistently in and out of the songs, rising over and winding through the many layers of instrumentation and vocals).
And her drummer is unique as well, exploiting his bass drum and swelling the crash cymbal to the outer limits of the venue. And rather than continue with the perhaps ill-informed accolades, I will merely assure you the same is true for the rest of the group. I cannot imagine a solo Laura Gibson's nuanced vocalizing getting lost anywhere, even amid the din of a yappy SXSW crowd, but with these musicians surrounding her, there was no missing the ample talent last night… well, unless you weren't there! (Then again, with the expansive sounds of Laura and her mates, there might not have been room for you!) But I am sorry if you missed it.
It was a small crowd, but a good crowd. There was no annoying screaming, "you're really ruining it for me, frat boy!," like at the Blind Pilot show last week (when a dedicated fan chastised the yappers to quiet down for the hushed acoustic encore by yelling even louder). In fact, there were no yappers at all last night. The 30 of us there were silent, rapt. The show was anything but hushed, however.
Although she has a tenor that might draw a crowd in, have them leaning forward, straining to capture every note, she also has the magnitude, as I said, to fill Powell Hall with her music. (Perhaps she's even bigger than she expected, if the occasional screech of feedback indicated anything.) She described the town that inspired her latest release's title, "La Grande," as containing "a certain gravity, a curious energy" -- likewise, her music is curiously weighty yet ethereal, at once pulling downward while accumulating and reverberating intensity.
Laura Gibson and crew played only ten songs in exactly forty-five minutes -- nine from her 2012 release "La Grande" and one of her first written, "The Longest Day." They employed the echoes and vocal effects live that you hear on the album; they played a slide electric guitar, a bass, a clarinet, two different trumpets, an acoustic guitar, and full percussion set; they made jokes about kissing on jumbotrons and Michael Jackson (she and he share the lyrics "beat it" in their song repertoire); they were genuinely friendly, hanging around post-show to speak with each fan one-on-one; and they were unflappable when the Gramophone bouncers' forcefully wrangled all present out the door before the evidently more important London Calling set took stage at 10:30 p.m.
Mostly, the band seemed sincerely grateful to be there, notwithstanding the low turnout; I don't suspect Gibson bears ill-will towards those not present -- as she says, "I will not grieve those bent to receive / seeds that could never be sown."
Truly, last night's performance was one of my favorites in recent years. So despite my admitted lack of formal training on the subject, I would nevertheless urge all of you to "come by fire / come by storm," as she says, the next time she comes through town -- I think she is worth hearing.
Skin, Warming Skin
The Longest Day
Time is Not