Balladeer John Gorka to play

Poor David's Pub in Dallas

December 3, 2009

photo: Mark Silver June 2009 Appelfarm

By MICHAEL GRANBERRY / The Dallas Morning News

John Gorka is coming to Texas. He plays Poor David's Pub tonight and the Cactus Café in Austin on Friday. Somewhere along the way, he plans to have some chicken enchiladas and barbecued turkey tacos, neither of which is very accessible in Minnesota, where he lives.

"I'm heading to the airport right now," he said Wednesday. "I thought it would be faster than driving I-35."

Such a line is just one example of how Gorka, now 51, is a master – during his live show – of catching people off-guard. Those who love his tender ballads, whether it be "I Saw a Stranger With Your Hair," "Let Them In" or the ethereal "Night Is a Woman," are often pleasantly taken aback by the dry-witted one-liners that punctuate his songs.

He has a new album, So Dark You See, which is full of terrific guitar play and memorable ballads. He gives voice to the voiceless as well as anyone, whether he's writing about a flying red horse trapped in a gas-station sign, a soldier skating on a frozen river or a jilted lover who sees a stranger wearing the hair of the woman who broke his heart.

But he is also a very funny man. Shouted requests might be met with a rare admission. "I don't know that one," he said during one show. "I know of it."

He often takes a spiral notebook on stage to help remember the lyrics. And then he might sing, "People My Age," which begins, "People my age have started looking gross" and finishes with "what's pleasant in the darkness is plain scary in the light."

"I think they're surprised," Gorka says of newcomers to his live shows. The humor makes him seem "like another person to them, and that's fun. It gives me something to contrast or play with. It gives a fuller picture of my point of view. It balances things, especially the darker, sadder songs."

Plan your life

7:15 p.m. today at Poor David's Pub, 1313 S. Lamar in Dallas.
Tickets: $27. 214-565-1295.