WGRE guest column: Laura Gibson--Empire Builder (Barsuk)

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Not two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Laura Gibson for the first time, opening for Shearwater, at Schubas Tavern. It’s a small venue, a drafty, wood-paneled room adorned with faded murals and strung up white lights. It’s an intimate environment-- there’s no backstage entrance, only an exit door off to the left and a small merchandise table towards the back. The whole atmosphere is very inviting--dark and close for sure, but comfortable in its small size. 

It’s this same comfort that seemed to beckon Gibson to the stage, already bursting with amplifiers and sound equipment, its metallic character only broken by her single acoustic guitar, connected to a modest amp toward the back of the stage. 

It’s worth mentioning she’s a graduate student, and in my conversation with her as she made her way through her set, I found she’d studied fiction at Hunter College, and was now in the process of furthering that degree, lending to that--a setlist hastily jotted on a cover page of a recent essay. 

It’s not her first rodeo; “Beasts of Seasons” was written in 2009, followed closely by “La Grande”, written just three years later. This album, though, is quite different from her previous two. It doesn’t take much searching to find this out: the “about” section on her website narrates the album well--it is not just her fourth LP, but a cathartic album, one that tells the story of her struggle in New York City. It’s the narration of a series of unfortunate events, starting with injury and ending with the destruction of her apartment, a horrific gas explosion which left two dead, and all of her possessions lost to the flames.

I could go on to tell you her story, but perhaps its better said with her music. It’s her most personal album to date, and gently guides us through a story of independence, trauma, connection and, finally, a sense of healing. It is not often I find myself connecting personally with the plight of artists, but in my young age, I found comfort in the resilience and rediscovery that Gibson finds in the wake of such an earth-shattering series of trials. It’s earnest, honest and wholesome.

In that small room at Schubas, the set only broken by small quips and laughs, we found ourselves not in the telling of a story, but along for the ride. Set for release on the April 1, it’s the album of a journey, and I can say with confidence that it’s one you’ll want to hear about.

-This column was also featured on bigtakeover.com.