John Gorka with Sarah Peacock at the Columbus Performing Arts Center (Ohio)
Jan. 22, 2016

If the music thing doesn’t work out, John Gorka should pursue a career in comedy. Gorka played a hugely entertaining show Friday at a sold-out Columbus Performing Arts Center. And he was hilarious as he worked his way through a two-set, 90-minutes performance, in which he visited a good chunk of his 11-album discography and told a lot of jokes.

He picked up a tiny, G-sharp electric instrument and declared, “I wanna play a little guitar for you.” He joshed about his days as a basement-dwelling bluesman named Slow Blind Driveway and said he felt blessed at the time to “have a floor over my head.” Before taking a break, Gorka promised to play different songs in the second set and noted that he writes his setlists post-performance. That way, he can be sure they don’t contain any songs that didn’t go over well.

“Thanks for clapping until I got back,” he said before the encore. “Or else it would have looked bad.” Gorka, eyes cast down, seemed almost nervous as he delivered between-song banter in a soft, unassuming voice that occasionally got stuck on words and stuttered slightly. But when he began to sing, the voice grew stronger and deeper, he made eye contact with his audience and any discomfort melted away until the next story began.

As funny as he is, Gorka needn’t worry about a fall-back gig in standup. His songs, his guitar and piano playing and his warm baritone are enough to ensure his continued career as a singer-songwriter - even if he dropped the humor from his set. “My name’s John, and I’ll be your singer,” Gorka said after opening with “Where No Monument Stands,” a serious ode to the value of peace. 

This is the field where the battle did not happen
where the unknown soldier did not die
this is the field where grass joined hands
where no monument stands
and the only heroic thing is the sky

He followed this with the decidedly unserious and introductory “I’m From New Jersey.” As he performed it, the bearded Gorka, in jeans and a sports jacket, looked like the philosophy student he once was. He made funny faces and held his right hand high in mock rock-star poses as he sang:

I’m from New Jersey
I don’t expect too much
if the world ended today

I would adjust The balance of Gorka’s Six String Concert Series performance unfolded much the way the openers had, with the singer mixing gorgeous, entirely unfunny ballads, such as “You Don’t Know Me” and “Let Them In” (performed not on six strings, but on 88 keys) with lighter fare such as “People My Age.”

People my age are looking overripe
some are getting operations to tighten up what ain’t tight
what gravity’s ruined, they try to fix with a knife
what’s pleasant in the darkness, is plain scary in the light

“Any eye contact was purely coincidental,” the 57-year-old Gorka said, hoping not to offend his audience of peers. Gorka sang wistfully of pre-gentrified Bethlehem, Pa., in “Where the Bottles Break.” He bemoaned Donald Trump and his ilk on an updated rendition of 2009's “Ignorance and Privilege.” He sung of a gas-station sign come to life on “The Flying Red Horse.” And he played the tender balladeer on “Love is Our Cross to Bear.” His 40-minute first set began immediately after Sarah Peacock’s 30-minute opening slot ended.

He was walking on as she was walking off after a performance that was highlighted by her powerful voice - akin to Melissa Etheridge but without the histrionics that make her so hard to listen to - and solid originals such as the anti-bullying “Cool Kids,” the ode to Superstorm Sandy Survivors “Hurricane” and “Are We There Yet,” a meditation on the trials and tribulations of a traveling troubadour.


Grade card:
John Gorka with Sarah Peacock at the Columbus Performing Arts Center, 1/22/16 - A6


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