Five quick thoughts on Wednesday's Daughn Gibson concert at Ace of Cups:
(1) "Come on up," Daughn Gibson beckoned after checking his mic by rattling off state names in his affected drawling bellow. "I wanna smell you." The line between Daughn Gibson the character and Josh Martin the musician is hazy, much like the video projections of Western highways, plus-sized belly dancers and kaleidoscopic color schemes the statuesque singer projected behind his two-man backing band. (The Greasy Beads, he called them.) The confusion runs deeper than the brain; your whole being struggles between revulsion toward this obvious charade and giving yourself over to it as fully as Gibson has. And boy does he use that confusion to his advantage. He's mystique manifest with a five o'clock shadow, spouting affected warbles until you lose your cool. His entire shtick is a staring contest he will never, ever lose. The only question is whether you walk out or wind up trapped in his orbit, within sniffing range.
(2) Sonically, the new Me Moan bridges outlaw country and experimental electronics, resulting in a Western noir sound that's as tough to parse as it is just plain tough. It's weird, but on stage, the hybrid felt downright typical in the wake of the zany avant-pop experiments that served as opening acts. Even without that context, Gibson's stage show would have sounded more straightlaced than the record. The live drums and guitar arm-wrestled the music's electronic side into submission, landing the performance firmly on the roadhouse side of the bar band/laptop lothario divide — all the better for the frontman's trucker Elvis tendencies to flourish.
(3) Much of that credit should go to Gibson's guitarist, who was tremendous from start to finish whether wrangling Telecaster riffs so punchy you could snap them over your knee or coaxing rich twang from the pedal steel. He packed a lot of noise into every song, but never more than necessary. Most tunes built tension until a sudden conclusion, dropping off a cliff right when the gratuitous honky-tonk solo would normally come in. For such an aesthetically indulgent act, the songs were surprisingly economical.
(4) Gibson's fully inhabited his persona. This involved stretching out every syllable into a tar pit, casually shaking his tambourine and hips, grooving with arms raised and lips pouted, smiling seductively and filling the gaps between songs with banter like "It's good to be here in Columbus... Ohio." When he refracted phrases like "In my garden, there's all this work to be done" and "I'm just an old man in a young girl's world" through his distinctive basso bloviation, the effect was both comical and unsettling. He's a mesmerizing frontman, one who'd be the center of attention whether he was alone on stage with a laptop or backed up by an eight-piece band.
(5) That's why I'm perplexed that so few people came to see him last night. I still find it odd that artists with as much buzz as Gibson — high-profile reviews, a record deal with Sub Pop — can attract a meager crowd like the one that sparsely inhabited Ace of Cups last night. I don't know whether it was because the openers (Skylab-centric weirdos American Jobs and Way Yes frontman Glenn Davis' solo project Triangle Piece) don't have much of a draw, or because it was a weeknight, or because people didn't hear about the show or what, but it felt like a ghost town in there. Fortunately, in Gibson's case, that only added to the Lynchian miasma. He's a mighty freak, and his show was mighty freaky.