Sensory Overload: Colin Gawel

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Throughout his set last Thursday at the Gateway Film Center's Black Box, Watershed frontman Colin Gawel recounted numerous instances over the years when the gods of rock decided to humble him after a string of good luck.

Gawel had good reason to revisit these greatest hits of humiliation. After performing for 2,300 fans at CD101 Day and recently playing to packed houses in New York and Chicago, Gawel had an audience of about five people at Thursday's show: me, my friend Emily, opening act Ricki C., Ricki's white-haired pal and seasoned promoter Dan Dougan, whose weekly Listening Hours series recently relocated to the Black Box after starting at Bristol Bar in January.

It's more than a little strange that somebody like Gawel, who's been getting lots of local radio play for his single "Superior," would attract essentially no one but a curious local music reporter to an intimate solo showcase.

Maybe people just didn't know the show was happening? Certainly some of Gawel's fans must have read his blog post advertising the show, complete with heartfelt memories of former Stache's and Little Brother's owner Dougan.

Perhaps the Listening Hours series is doomed? Healthy crowds for Whoa Nellie! and Jim Maneri last month suggest otherwise.

So maybe Thursday's scant showing really was divine intervention aimed at knocking Gawel back down to size.

The thing is, dude already seems well-versed in the fine art of humility. He has a warm, unassuming way about him, performing his songs with a friendly demeanor that welcomes listeners into his world without demanding much on our part.

Gawel isn't completely devoid of ego, but his is a quiet confidence that allows him to play extremely vanilla pop-rock tunes like they were stunning works of art.

Make no mistake: There's nothing all that notable about Gawel's songwriting. No tangible factor sets it apart from any number of other pop-rock and Americana songwriters.

But he pours so much vigor into each tune that I don't mind the lack of surprises. The way he sells it, it's almost preordained - like, what else would he be playing?

The one deviation from this M.O. was Gawel's song about "Jaws," written in conjunction with his six-year-old son. Goofy, fun and simplistic, you could tell it went over real well in kindergarten earlier that day.

The "Jaws" reference was appropriate because I appreciated Gawel's show the same way I appreciate a Hollywood blockbuster. It didn't challenge me, but it certainly entertained me.

Like a veritable Spielberg of vaguely twangy acoustic pop, Gawel took songwriting tropes that others have done to death and made them simmer with life once more.

Colin Gawel