With Kris Demeanor
Friday, March 4 at 8 p.m.
The ARTery (9535 Jasper Avenue)
$12 at the door
While songs about pimps and going to jail might not sound like typical subject matter for traditional Jewish folk songs, Geoff Berner would be inclined to say otherwise. According to the Vancouver-based folk musician, the irreverence, black humour, and scathing social commentary so prevalent on his new album Victory Party aren't necessarily alien ideas in klezmer music.
"I'm continuing to work in a tradition of those things being an essential part of Jewish culture," Berner explains over the phone. "There's a long history of satire and black humour there, a lot of dark jokes inspired by the dark experiences of the Jewish people. [...] So you know, there's no shortage of political songs and stories and novels in the traditional Jewish cultural world, and there's a long history of radical Yiddish thought that goes back centuries."
"What I'm doing is not innovative," Berner concludes. "It's merely reaching into a long tradition."
After finishing the Whiskey Rabbi trilogy of albums in 2008, Berner is back with something different. For Victory Party, he worked with Josh Dolgin, better known by the moniker Socalled, a Canadian producer whose own music fuses hip-hop and klezmer. It's a departure from how Berner made his previous albums, which were essentially recorded live. It makes for a more polished sound, which Berner says is "bigger" and "fuller" than his previous albums.
"The trilogy got a lot of attention and did well for me, and for me to go, 'Remember the trilogy? Well, here's another one like that!' would have been kind of lame," Berner says.
Some things, however, will remain the same — Berner's approach to humour and politics hasn't changed since the first installment of the Whiskey Rabbi trilogy in 2005. According to Berner, all art has a political perspective — even American Idol.
"I aspire to be an independent man of the left," Berner says. "So my art has a left-wing bent. But it's just funny how if you're a lefty, then they say you're political. But if you're just fine with the way things are [...] they don't say that's political. But it is political to make a record that doesn't talk about how [...] there might be something wrong going on from time to time."
Besides, Berner says, art is supposed to have a political bent. "If you leave out issues of how power and money get distributed, and what the priorities of our people should be, then you're leaving out an awful lot of the world," he explains. "In the same way that if you didn't have any love songs, you've be leaving out something too."
As with previous albums, Berner will be touring extensively in Canada and abroad. The musician's travels have obviously influenced him, with songs on previous albums carrying titles like "Song Written in a Romanian Hospital," and "The Traveller's Curse." Still, Berner sees travel as more of a blessing.
"I don't think you really understand your own home until you've been away for a while," he remarks. "You don't really see it until you get a sense of what other places are like."
Wherever he goes, Berner will bring with him his sense of humour, his wit, and a stunningly sharp intellect. Certainly he's no stranger to controversy, and whether he's poking fun at politics through his songs or running a joke platform for the Rhinoceros Party of Canada, his presence is making an impact on Canadian culture.
"I think [humour is] a good way to disarm people's assumptions and prejudices. Humour, I think, actually changes people's minds. As opposed to slogan shouting. Or reason."