Here's the review:
You won’t find Geoff Berner schmoozing with secretaries in a brokerage office any time soon, not for lack of ability mind you, but boozing it up with a bundle of catchy klezmer-accordion and punk-lyric drinking songs, he’ll insure your hangover and a semi-damned good time. Last night at the Biltmore Cabaret, Geoff Berner released his CD “Klezmer Mongrels”, the third album in his “Whiskey Rabbi Trilogy”. Eventually, everybody had fun.
Opening for Geoff Berner was the Vancouver-based industrial noise project “Whip of the UFO”. It’s a one man band of Andrew Scott playing such Weapons of Mass-Destruction as a fibre optic frequency tester, a tangled network of synth pads, and modified toys like a f.u.b.a.r. Furby and children’s vocal distorters. He acquires gear bits with his toy-store employee discount and hacks them up with mad-science. It was noise. It was industrial. Many people listened with their hands over their ears. One concerned, beer-carrying patron actually went up to him and asked him to “Please stop!” The Whip was un-phased as he continued to beam down such industrial labour ballads from the machines’ perspective as “Your Head Asplode.” Geoff Berner could be seen tapping his foot through the set. He seemed to be waving his middle finger at his lyrics and melody-loving community of support. I guess that’s where the “punk” in “klezmer punk” comes in.
Geoff Berner was up second in a three act show. People started jumping when his trio started off with their high-energy “Get Them Drunk and Dancing”. A small group of dancers dedicated to fun danced the whole show, but for the most part, people stood sipping beers and listening to his catchy, racy, cabaret style tunes. In his song “Half-German Girlfriend” he puts out the line “Half of German culture is sublime; and we’ll breed out all the rest in time.” He manages to pull off shocking lyrics with admirable charm. He’s an effective singer, not the best; with Diona Davies shredding violin with wild abandon and Wayne Adams on djembe and kit percussion, his band sound is fun; but it’s his lyrics that sink in strongly. With songs like “Lucky Goddamn Jew” and “Whiskey Rabbi” the crowd was singing along, and even more so with his “official anthem” for the 2010 Olympics. In the catchiest anti-Olympic drinking song ever, with clear and precise lyrics Berner explains that funding for the Olympic building project was acquired by cutting social spending. In particular, funding was cut from the investigation of children’s deaths in Canada. Then he blasts you with the chorus: “The dead, dead children were worth it! (3 times) The Vancouver-Whistler Olympic Games!” Berner is offering this song as a free download on his website because apparently he believes, like I do, that everyone should have it.
The Joey Only Outlaw Band closed the night. Their first three songs were interesting: a folk song with images from the holocaust sung by Mr. Joey Only, a dark original called “Faerie Music” by the fiddler Jeff Andrew, and a cover by Rowan Lipkovitz of (audience member) Al Mader’s macabre cult classic “Dead Man’s Pants”. Then the set disintegrated into generic bar-band country-rock. The band has potential. They can keep people swinging from side to side, but theyhaven’t yet learned how to hold the interest of music lovers.
Stay tuned for a follow up article and interview!