Of the many ways we can pigeonhole singer-songwriters — as country artists, hippies, coffee shop folkies — Laura Gibson manages to just skirt around all of them. The folk base of most of her songs is, on the albums, often mitigated by arrangements of varying complexity. When playing live, she makes her efforts to maintain that thoughtfulness by backing up her acoustic guitar or electric piano with a backing vocalist/violinist/pianist.
But it’s who Gibson is between songs that defines her as a performer. She teases about her songs being melancholic. She tells long stories about train rides and her failed high school musical theatre career. She drinks from a yellow metal water bottle and then informs the audience, “I just made some music for this water bottle company. I’m pretty happy with the swag I got.”
Her personality is a wonderful counterpoint to the seriousness of her songs, the heartbreak, the feelings of alienation. She isn’t overly precious about her work, and it makes her all the easier to identify with. But when she describes the title track of her latest album, Goners, as having started life as a show tune, it doesn’t make it less lovely or wistful.
Gibson proves how captivating she can be as she leads the audience in singing a gentle “ooh ooh” as a backing track to her own a cappella — a moment somewhat marred by the gig in Store Vega making the bottles on the shelves behind the bar rattle. But when the average artist struggles to get an odd chorus out of an audience, never mind a half-filled club, sustaining a singalong for a whole song is quite a feat. And joining the ranks of those who resist phoney encores, she sets us up in advance to know that we should make our singalong count; touching on the hippie, the coffee shop, but through and through, she’s a performer.