September 2006

Geoff Berner
at the Ashkenaz Festival
September 2, 2006Brigantine Room / Harbourfront CentreToronto
Laughter makes the medicine go down
by Joyce Corbett with photos by Roger Humbert
A very casual, relaxed bar atmosphere prevailed in the Brigantine Room, perhaps the drinks being served helped. In any case, if, after a half-hour of a Geoff Berner “performance”, you are still in the room, you can’t be too uptight, and you’re probably having a great time exploding into bouts of laughter.
Geoff Berner is rude, crude, blasphemous and brilliant. His unique style and subject matter has him 'categorized' as klezmer-punk-folk. The category fits him well. He is an acerbic poet and a stand-up comic who loves to shock in the tradition of a Lenny Bruce. He carries on a natural, easy banter with his audience. He accompanies himself on accordion, the perfect wandering minstrel’s instrument. On this night, Bridgette Dajzcer’s violin and Wayne Adams on djembe and cymbals completed the musical component with inebriating crescendos of discord and insistent beats.
Geoff Berner & Bridgette Dajzcer
Many in Geoff Berner’s audience knew his material well, shouting requests for favourite songs, and even singing along. “Stop that scatting Andrew”, he ordered at one point. Then, telling the rest of us, “I wish you were all as drunk as Andrew”. We are listening to “The Whiskey Rabbi”.

Introducing “Weep, Bride, Weep”, a new wedding tune, another audience member asks, “Will it rock?” Among other comments, Berner informs us that he expects this one to become an international hit in the manner of “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock ‘N’ Roll)”. Not likely, especially with the part about how the musicians are getting it on with the bridesmaids and lyrics like “now that there’s been enough noise and celebration to put the Normandy invasion to shame there’s nothing left to do but weep, bride, weep”. "Nothing but the horrifying agony of childbirth to look forward to, weep, bride, weep, look at your husband, weep……. He’s a closet…..Marxist…., weep….." — Believe me, it’s hilarious!

Then there was “Widow Bride”. His grandfather’s advice? Marry one of those if you want to be happy. But the song and preamble had as much to do with how it happened that his great-grandfather ended up in Canada and it wasn’t by marrying a widow-bride — at least, not exactly. After that, he gave us our instructions to participate in the sing-along version of “Maginot Line”, by shouting “stupid, stupid” in the chorus. “It’s a waltz, feel free to get up”. The last line of the song carried a serious warning, “a perfect fortress makes a perfect tomb”.

“Before turning to new Jewish drinking songs”, he sang the requested lullaby “That’s What Keeps the Rent Down Baby”, after which we clapped along to “Lucky Goddamn Jew” (“Thank you, thank you everyone for not completely stamping us out”…”now I’ve got my own country where I’m free to persecute people with less luck than me”) with it’s final chorus of goddamn, goddamn reaching a screeching finale.

That was followed by a beautiful Palestinian poem, "The Violins” by Mahmoud Darwich, (“we can still play each other’s songs”). “Violins are horses on a string of phantoms”….”The violins cry for the Arabs departing Andalucia”….”The violins weep for the gypsies arriving in Andalucia”.

Geoff Berner left us with the dark, pretty, and rather Celtic-folk-sounding “Clown and Bard”. As for the title, the name of a bar in the tune and also the labels of the characters, fleetingly, I think I could apply it to Berner, but though he is certainly a bard, he doesn’t fit the word clown. He may be funny but his humour is generally more scathing than silly. As scathing as truth can be.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Joyce Corbett
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Roger Humbert
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