Pop Princess Debbie Gibson Staged a Triumphant Return to St. Louis

The singer-songwriter made a joyful run through her classic tunes at River City Casino

Jul 5, 2023 at 9:50 am
click to enlarge Debbie Gibson onstage at River City Casino.
Debbie Gibson onstage at River City Casino.

When former ’80s teen-pop sensation Debbie Gibson released the dance-oriented The Body Remembers in 2021, some critics celebrated the long-awaited return of the original pop-singer-songwriter princess to her rightful throne. A cruel COVID-19 summer or two later, Gibson has taken her new show on the road, including a Friday-night stop at St. Louis’ River City Casino.

If there is indeed a full-fledged Debbiessance going on in the wider pop landscape, it’s still a fairly well-kept secret in St. Louis, as the casino’s modest concert hall was about two-thirds full, and those on hand were mostly middle-aged nostalgists along with the diehard Debheads who never lost track of Gibson as she transitioned from MTV starlet to Broadway workhorse to quinquagenarian disco revivalist. A handful of “Diamond Debheads,” in fact, were invited to watch all of Gibson’s two-hour set from on stage with her where they deliriously sang and clapped and filmed her backside for the entire show.

Gibson, at 52, looks fantastic, taking the stage singing “One Step Closer” from the new album in a blue sequined mini-dress so short that she was one foolish beat away from shaking free more love than she intended, prompting her to remove her belt to allow for more wiggle room. She also made a show of removing her heels just one song into the evening and performed most of the show barefoot, starting with a joyful run through her classic “Electric Youth,” which morphed, surprisingly, into Portugal. The Man’s “Feel It Still,” signaling that Debbie was up for anything on this tour — the old, the new and the ABBA. She also played ZZ Top’s “Legs,” and, yes, she’s got them, and she knows how to use them, which can’t necessarily be said for the guitar she was strumming during the song.

She’s obviously proud of her dress size, so much that “Legs” was accompanied by a video montage of web-article headlines touting her superior physique. Gibson broke the fourth wall in this way throughout the evening — saying the quiet parts out loud — whether making fun of her stage set (a red chair that “needs some Gorilla Glue” repairs) or warning audience members that she is “probably stinky and sweaty” when she took a lap through the crowd for hugs and high fives during “The Body Remembers.”

Gibson was never a vocal powerhouse, but her larynx remains quite strong if a bit shrill in her upper register, certainly sturdy enough to cover a versatile set of tunes, which leaned on a respectable number of new songs that snuggled effectively against the old hits. She got to all of those, naturally, playing keys on “Foolish Beat” while the original video of her 17-year-0ld self played behind her. It’s worth noting that Gibson still holds the record for that song as the youngest artist to write, perform and produce her own No. 1 single. Before Swift, Rodrigo and Eilish, there was Gibson.

She really turned back the hands of time by showing a montage of ’80s clips of her teen self appearing with TV hosts like Dick Clark, John Tesh and MTV’s Kevin Seal before reemerging onstage in a shorts-and-tank pajama set, her hair in a low side-pony to perform a medley of songs from her debut smash album Out of the Blue, including “Shake Your Love,” “Only in My Dreams” and the title song. The sequence saw Gibson bouncing around with her backup dancers and singers — also in PJs — on a blowup mattress to replicate the teenage slumber parties at which many in the audience likely originally listened to this music.

Gibson’s tank read, “Love for all/All for love” in rainbow colors, the kind of messaging that has made her a Pride parade favorite for years, which was periodically emphasized during the show. At one point, a video of men kissing on beaches played behind her. By the way, dancer Buddy Casimano has been gyrating alongside Gibson since she was in high school, and at 54, along with fellow bald hoofer Eddie Bennett, still pulled off some impressive roundoff back tucks and running layouts with little room to work on the small stage, getting their biggest spotlight on a languid cover of the Irene Cara oldie “Fame,” played by Gibson quite beautifully on the Nord Grand.

After a tribute to Tina Turner during the new “Legendary,” Debbie switched to a fleshy Britney-style unitard with silver sequins, metallic fringed boots and superfluous abs contouring makeup for the danciest run of the evening, including a deliciously fun Mamma Mia medley that squeezed 10 ABBA songs into eight minutes. That was a hard bit to follow, especially with new material, but Gibson worked it hard, throwing in a snippet of Missy Elliot’s “Work It” during her own “Dance 4U” to prove it.

Finally, Gibson brought it all back home with a final costume change, now in her trademark oversized baggy jeans, white puff-sleeve crop top and a black, wide-brimmed Debbie Gibson hat, encoring with the sweetly sentimental “We Could Be Together” from 1989’s Electric Youth. She once sang that the future is electric youth, and 35 years later, at least for a couple of hours on stage, it’s still true: You can't fight it/Live by it/The next generation/It's electric.

For more of photographer Carrie Ogle's images of Debbie Gibson, visit reviewstl.com.

This story has been updated.

Subscribe to Riverfront Times newsletters.

Follow us: Apple NewsGoogle News | NewsBreak | Reddit | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Or sign up for our RSS Feed