by John Ellis
When seeing indie musicians/bands in concert, there is the risk that the live experience will be disappointing. There are a variety of reasons for that. One reason is because many indie musicians lack stage presence, or they haven’t logged enough hours on stage to develop whatever stage presence they do possess. Another reason is because the producer they hired to record their album worked his or her magic and created the illusion that the musician is better than he or she actually is; the musicianship is lacking. I have had many concert experiences ruined by either or both of those reasons. Thankfully, every Drew Gibson concert that I’ve had the privilege of attending has been rewarding; and I’ve seen him in concert several times.
Drew Gibson is a consummate professional, both in his engaging and enjoyable stage presence and his accomplished and stirring music. I have seen Drew Gibson play large(ish) music halls (The Birchmere) and small club venues (Jammin Java). He has the professional entertainer’s ability to tailor his show to fit the size of the house, the mood of the audience, and the overall attitude of the evening.
While opening for Joan Armatrading at The Birchmere, Gibson began his set in front of an audience who was only interested in placing their food and drink order before Armatrading hit the stage. Before Gibson had even played a note, I watched him kindly and skillfully compel the crowd to sit back and pay attention to this singular yet unknown force on stage. I reviewed that concert for No Depression, and one of the main hooks I used was how I would love for Drew Gibson to become my improvisational partner. He’s that good on stage. However, for musicians, all the powerful stage presence in the world is only going to go so far if the musicianship is lacking. I’m happy to report that by the time Drew Gibson played his final note of that evening, the house had mostly forgotten that they had come to see Joan Armatrading. In the end, it was Gibson’s music that held their focus.
In my experience, the response to Drew Gibson’s music that evening at The Birchmere is not just the norm but the only response. Having reviewed many indie musicians, I receive a variety of reactions from people who take my advice and listen to a band or singer/songwriter. Sometimes they agree with my assessment, but other times the response can be tepid. When people listen to Drew Gibson, however, I have only ever received one reaction – “he is really good! I love his songwriting.”
Gibson is a master storyteller, as evidenced on his latest album, 1532. In fact, I will stake my aesthetic reputation on this – there are very few musicians working today who possess the storytelling mastery of Drew Gibson. This skill not only helps translate his albums into coherent, interesting listening experiences, but his ability as a storyteller helps create a live experience that becomes deeply personal for all involved. When listening to Drew Gibson, the audience doesn’t feel as if a performer is putting on a show; they feel as if an artist friend has included them in a private conversation.
Drew Gibson’s compelling stage presence, skillful musicianship, and inviting storytelling are why I’m excited that my friends in my old place of residence and friends in my current place of residence have the opportunity to see Drew Gibson over the next few days. First, on March 25, Drew Gibson is playing the Spinning Jenny. And on March 28, Gibson will back in the DC area, playing at the Iota Club and Café.
Both venues serve musicians and audiences well. And while I must confess that I have yet to attend a concert at the Spinning Jenny, every musician that I know who has played the hall has raved about their experience. Every friend who has attended a show at the Greer, SC venue has had a great time, and all speak of highly of their time at the Spinning Jenny. As new manager of the Spinning Jenny, Sharon Murry is creating a space that serves both the community and the musicians. I strongly encourage all of my Greenville, SC area friends to at least consider paying the mere eight dollars per ticket, and spending an evening at a fun venue listening to a brilliant musician.
Likewise, my DC area friends would do themselves a favor by hopping on the Orange Line and make the incredibly convenient trek to Clarendon in order to see Drew Gibson at Iota. I have seen multiple shows at Iota, and the venue continues to impress me (not to mention that their big bowl of house-made mac and cheese is quite satisfying and their beer list is admirable).
Few experiences are more rewarding than excellent concerts. For those who are able, I promise you that seeing Drew Gibson at either Spinning Jenny or Iota will make for an enjoyable and memorable evening.