Gorka mingles laughs, lyrics
FORT WORTH – John Gorka is a consummate songwriter. 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 an incredibly funny man, who by the end of the evening leaves an audience laughing as hard as they might after seeing a stand-up comic score on the stage of the Improv.
It was that infectious combination – exquisite songwriting, masterful singing and laugh-out-loud one-liners – that made his show here Saturday night at the Jefferson Freedom Café easily one of the best of the year.
Mr. Gorka alone would have been enough, but by adding the lovely, ethereal voice of warm-up act and background vocalist Amilia K. Spicer and the flat-out amazing bass playing of Michael Manring, it made the evening feel like an embarrassment of riches.
Wearing his trademark red shirt and black shoes with red laces, Mr. Gorka graced the crowd with 21 songs that ranged between knockout ballads and a festival of knee-slappers.
At 49, his hair and beard are turning gray, not unlike those who came to hear him, which only accentuated the poignancy (and punch lines) of such songs as "People My Age."
It begins by noting that "people my age have started looking gross" and finishes with "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."
But for every song he writes, for every time he compares himself to a watch or a tree, he has three more songs that demonstrate he's as good or better than any balladeer who ever lived.
It wasn't hard to hear the sniffles when he sang such classics as "Love Is Our Cross to Bear," "I Saw a Stranger With Your Hair" or "Night Is a Woman," which, as one of the night's highest points, allowed him to show that he plays piano as masterfully as he does guitar.
It was also interesting to note how appreciative the crowd was in hearing the anti-war timbre of several songs, the most moving of which was "Let Them In," a song he modified from a poem.
As moving as that was, he had the crowd laughing by the end, when he urged them to buy his new high-definition DVD (available at johngorka.com), saying it was perfect for viewing on a fancy home-theater system, which, of course, he doesn't own.
"So, if you don't mind," he said, "I'll have to go to your house to watch it."