What a long strange trip its been. It hasn’t been a trip, in fact, but a long strange illness that robbed me of any energy to stay on the pulse of my beloved Montreal music and arts scene. Little by little, I’ll be back with reviews of films and art openings and musical acts.
So, here’s a taste of last night. I was unfamiliar with Geoff Berner, though it was unlikely he’d be off my radar forever. This songwriter-singer-musician sings, rants, and drinks, and not necessarily in that order. Casa del Popolo was packed to the rafters with people who dig the Soul Music of European Heebs, Jewish Jazz, better known as Klezmer. Here in Montreal, there is a klezmer scene of note led by Josh Dolgin, who blends traditional Klezmer with hip hop and other genres in his identity SoCalled. I’m rather fond of him, and I’ve seen hit the ivories as well as the accordian, and he further opens the stage to a host of other locals including octogenarian drummers. His talent is nothing to sneeze at. Geoff Berner also seems to have considerable talent with songs so clever, you could stick a tail on it and call it a weasel (that’s a Blackadder line). I found myself laughing, dancing, and kind of shocked at his daring simultaneously. I haven’t heard such candor in a public venue since I left the States 13 years ago.
Sharing a bottle of whiskey with his bandmates, two fiddlers, and a drummer, he brought the room to tears of laughter with his rollicking, ferocious music. To dissect the themes in an academic manner (he dealt with modern sexuality and political themes) does not do him justice. He breathes life into this old genre of music by singing about all things relevant to a generation raised on iphones and under the shroud of globalization. Furthermore, he sings about his own identify, a modern Jew living in liberal, multicultural Canada, in a way that is celebratory, self aware, and self deprecating. Canada needs more musicians like Berner who can kick the audience in the balls by treading into uncomfortable territory fearlessly and unapologetically.
Opening for Berner was Toronto band Forest City Lovers. This lovely band fronted by the equally lovely Kat Burns was a solid Canadian indie rock band in the same genre as the Jetplanes of Abraham – great throaty vocals (Jill Barber-esque), wonderful collaboration with some less familiar instruments to grace the stage (good old glockenspiel and outstanding violin contribution by Mika Posen), and fantastic set of songs. Again, a band I am not so familiar with, but one that I am hoping to see on the scene for many years.