Posts Tagged ‘geoff berner’

SLCR #295: Wordfest (October 10, 2017)

October 16, 2017

When you think about concerts, one word comes to mind: books.

I had a few shows already scheduled for Calgary when this thing popped up on Facebook and it sounded pretty neat. As part of a week-long festival of words by the name of Wordfest, there was a concert-slash-reading featuring musicians-slash-authors Geoff Berner, Rae Spoon, Kris Demeanor, and Caroline Connolly. There are readings and other events with all kinds of authors all week long; this particular session was called “How to Be… Wordy & Wild” and it was at the Big Secret Theatre downtown, where I first saw Hawksley Workman’s play The God That Comes a few years back.

I didn’t catch this initially, but that “How to Be” up there was selected because these are (mostly) the authors of the How to Be series of booklets. I am slow. But sometimes I get there eventually.

Or sometimes I get there early. The Big Secret Theatre is only two LRT stops away; for some reason, I still felt I needed to leave my grandma’s place over an hour beforehand to make sure I wasn’t late. This put me downtown with too much time to kill. I found a Tim Hortons and ordered a hot chocolate and played iPhone games until I could wander over at a more appropriate hour. The hot chocolate was both chocolatey and exceptionally hot; I wasn’t convinced it was going to cool off in time for me to make it to the show, but I powered through because I am an intrepid reporter and I am committed to my tasks. Unless I’m sleepy or it’s cold out or I just change my mind about going.

Let’s meet our authors. Klezmer punk accordionist Geoff Berner shows up regularly in these here reviews. He wrote the first volume in the series, How to Be an Accordion Player. Note that this booklet will not teach you how to play the accordion. It’s called How to Be an Accordion Player. This is an important distinction. Berner opened the event by explaining how the book series came to be; namely, they were commissioned by a shadowy, possibly Lithuanian, possible billionaire who may or may not have been in attendance.

Singer/songwriter Kris Demeanor is someone whose name I’ve heard forever but had never had the chance to see him perform before. He was Calgary’s inaugural poet laureate and he works with inner-city youth, so his booklet is titled How to Be an Asshole of Calgary.

The last time I saw Rae Spoon, it was probably 15 years ago and they were performing in the basement of a Cajun restaurant in Saskatoon. Since then, they’ve released a number of albums and gone on to widespread critical acclaim. I remember very little about that last show and I don’t have my old reviews immediately accessible (for which I’m thankful, as I probably sounded like a real dope), but I was really looking forward to the chance to see Spoon again. I also really miss that restaurant. Spoon’s booklet, the newest release of the four, is How to (Hide) Be(hind) Your Songs.

Caroline Connolly is an Alberta musician from a band called The Lovebullies. She also makes and sells gluten-free perogies, which is the noblest of callings. To the best of my knowledge, she’s never written a book. I feel like if she had, this would have come up. Carolyn Mark did, and it’s called How to Be a Boozy Chanteuse, which is how she was described in the New York Times. Mark was unable to attend, away “at an undisclosed location, doing very important things, like her hair,” so Connolly filled in for her. Mark did send her guitar, but upon inspection, it was just a guitar case filled with wine bottles and underwear. I’ve seen Carolyn Mark a few times and I’m 100% prepared to believe that this was legitimate and not a comedy bit.

The format was pretty simple; “like a folk festival workshop where no work gets done,” said Berner. They all took turns reading, then they read some more but also sang some songs, and then more reading and songs. The order was Berner > Connolly > Demeanor > Spoon > repeat, but folks would play and sing on each other’s songs.

You can probably infer how the readings went by the titles of the books. I mean, each booklet is about how to be something, so that’s what they talked about. And you may have also gathered that these are not super-serious instruction manuals for your life. Except maybe they should be? Spoon’s seemed the closest to being sincere, but all four authors got great laughs from the crowd – and, at times, from each other. Berner in particular has great comedic timing when telling stories.

He also nearly shot beer out his nose when Demeanor read the following lines about Calgary: “At the time of writing, our city is going through hard times. Aleppo hard.” Demeanor’s book seems like it might have the most laugh-out-loud potential of the four.

As for the songs, Connolly kicked it off with Mark’s tune 2 Days Smug and Sober, with Demeanor on guitar (and I believe Berner on accordion for this one). I really like this song and hadn’t heard it in forever. She did a fine job even if she needed a lyric sheet for reference.

I will break here to mention that if you have Apple Music, you can search for my SLCR 2017 playlist which features most everyone I’ve seen in concert this year. I had to make the hard choices about whether or not to include 2 Days on it, since Mark didn’t actually play here, but I ruled in favour of adding it to the list since I like it. It’s good to be the guy who makes rules.

Demeanor was up next with his song Liquidation World, which he played in lieu of reading the chapter of his booklet entitled How to Shop Like an Asshole. With witty lyrics and great guitar playing, I immediately decided I like this guy.

I couldn’t add Spoon’s first song to my playlist since it isn’t being released until next year. This made me sad because it’s called Do Whatever the Fuck You Want and I think this song presents some solid life advice. It also has a bridge where they spell out exactly what the song is about, so as to avoid any sort of misinterpretation. It was observed that Born in the USA should have had a bridge for that exact purpose. Spoon also noted that the more folk festival-friendly version of the song, Do Whatever the Heck You Want, is a big hit with children. I can totally see that.

Berner’s first tune was Hustle Advisory, off his brand new record Canadiana Grotesquica. It also has plenty of f-bombs in it and I’ve caught myself humming it all day. I’m not sure grandma approves.

The next round of songs was Swang Swang (or possibly Swing Swing said with a flourish?) by Connolly, which was one of her own, not Mark’s. Demeanor had the best title of the night with his next song, The Drunk You Is You. Spoon played their song Cowboy, and Berner covered Mark’s song Edmonton, one of my favourites of hers. The mention of Edmonton actually raised a gasp from one person in the audience, which Berner called attention to (“Yes. A sharp intake of breath.”) before encouraging us all to be open to learning about other cultures.

These were all interspersed with more readings, where we learned about asshole role models, how a boozy chanteuse should dress (if police aren’t suspicious, you’re not trying hard enough), Stalin, and how you can talk about Jesus when you secretly mean Carla. There was also some audience participation as we debated the pronunciation of halcyon and deigning (which I knew) and fecund (which I’m still not certain of).

After a round of very exuberant plugs for books and upcoming concerts, Spoon closed out the show with another excellently named song, My Heart is a Piece of Garbage. Fight Seagulls! Fight! This was picked to end the show since it references the Calgary Tower, only blocks away.

They were selling stuff and signing stuff after the show, so I went on a shopping spree. I already had Berner’s booklet from long ago, so I got the other three. They were $10 each or four for $30, so I picked up a second copy of How to be an Asshole of Calgary, since Colin just moved here last year and he could probably still use some advice. Demeanor kindly signed both copies and Spoon signed theirs as well.

While I didn’t need Berner’s booklet, I did pick up his new novel, The Fiddler is a Good Woman, days before its official release. His previous novel, Festival Man, was a great read so I’m really looking forward to this one. I got it signed too because I’m a dork like that.

This whole show was a goddamn delight and I smiled the whole time. What great, talented folks. Go see them all and go buy their books.

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SLCR #218 – Geoff Berner (July 29, 2015)

August 6, 2015

I was on the fence about this one.

PRO: The first time I saw Geoff Berner was a fantastic night of music that made me a fan of Ford Pier, and then made me a fan of Berner, and then made me a fan of Carolyn Mark, and it’s in my top 10 shows ever

CON: One time I saw Berner at O’Hanlon’s and it was full of people who didn’t pay to get in and didn’t know who he was and weren’t interested in his weirdness or his accordion or his politics and he responded by not caring in kind

PRO: The Artful Dodger is a nice venue, much more suited to Berner

CON: I thought it would be well suited to Danny Michel too, but it was full of people who didn’t appear to pay cover and weren’t interested in listening and wouldn’t get out of my way

CON: Nobody wanted to go with me

PRO: It was during my vacation week from work so what the hell

That last one only brings it up to a tie and really shouldn’t count anyway, but it pushed me over the line somehow. VACATION WOO

So yeah. I went alone to the Artful Dodger for the show. I wandered in past an unattended pile of CDs and books, and hit the bar to pay for my ticket and get the least beer-flavoured beer I could identify (Shock Top). My fears of Berner being drowned out by the chatty supper crowd were unfounded. I got there right before the scheduled 8:00 start time – the opening act was already on stage, doing their soundcheck while Berner sat at a table down in front with some friends – and I was the first person to sit in the bench seats at the back. At the peak of the evening, I don’t think there were more than 70 people in attendance, including the staff and musicians. I am pretty bad at guessing attendance, but I had time enough to count people, so I think this one is reasonably accurate.

The openers were the Whiskey Jerks, a six-piece from Saskatoon. They brought a nice mix of instruments with them, including an accordion, a violin, a standing bass, and a range of wind instruments (he said, hiding his inability to confidently identify anything beyond a flute). It was folk music that had a real swing to it, delivered with a good sense of humour. These folks seemed like they were having a good time and that was contagious. They played for about 45 minutes or so, stopping at one point to ask Berner how much time they had left (he didn’t know and didn’t seem the slightest bit concerned). I was only familiar with the last song they played, which was one of Berner’s. This all worked out well. You could tell they really liked that song, Berner seemed to enjoy the tribute (they’d obviously cleared it with him beforehand), and I got to hear one of my favourite Berner songs, Wealthy Poet. That was actually the third time I’d heard someone else play that one; it’s performed by Maria in the Shower on the Festival Man album (a collection of Berner songs performed by other artists), and I heard some random band playing it on Scarth Street one noon hour a few years ago. It’s a good one. A nice mix of catchy and horrifically bleak.

I think Geoff Berner has opinions. I say “I think” because lyrics are poetry and poetry is subjective, right? I’m an English major, I know that you can bullshit any sort of “meaning” out of any random collection of words. But I am reasonably confident when I say that Geoff Berner has opinions. He played a new song with what he described as a subtle political message. This song was called “I Think That We Should Probably Just Vote NDP This Time.” This song has not yet been released, so I don’t know if “When we get proportional representation, then you can go ahead and vote your Greens” was part of the official title. Maybe in parentheses?

If you’re still unclear about Berner’s political leanings, another new song included the lines “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious / I hope Stephen Harper dies of multiple sclerosis,” to which he added “preferably in a First Nations health centre in a reserve in northern Ontario. Or a ditch!”

That song was about one the great joys of being Jewish; namely, you get to dance and celebrate when bad things befall your enemies. He also played a new one called “I Feel Less Mad At God When I See You In Your Summer Dress,” as well as the song he opened his set with, “We Are Going To Bremen To Be Musicians.” That one is the theme song to the new children’s book he just put out. Because of course he did and of course it is. Really, the majority of the show was made up of new songs; I have all of Berner’s albums, and I still only recognized a handful of tunes – That’s What Keeps The Rent Down Baby, Maginot Line, Mayn Rue Platz, and the closing number, When DD Gets Her Donkey, Everything Will Be Alright. And Daloy Polizei, which translates into “fuck the police.” Berner graciously offered other klezmer bands the opportunity to cover the song and replace some of the lyrics with their own stories of police brutality, “you know, for that local flavour. There’s lots to choose from right now.”

I was a little disappointed that the set was so short. He shut things down after about an hour, which surprised me. He has a ton of songs, and despite the relatively low turnout, the folks who did show up were really into it. That, or it’s just easy to get people to shout along to “STUPID, STUPID” or “FUCK THE POLICE.” Either way, I had a good time.

SLCR #201: Regina Folk Festival (August 15, 2014)

September 5, 2014

Didn’t quit yet. Maybe someday. Just late. Very late. As I will be.

We didn’t see much of the Folk Festival this year. I had bought weekend passes around Christmastime, but when they announced the Festival schedule, we found that we were really only excited for Friday night. We talked about selling the weekend passes and just buying Friday night passes instead. We went back and forth about this until I had reason to be out of town on the Saturday, which made the decision for us. Most folks I talked to were similarly most excited about Friday night, but I’ve heard that Saturday night was the first to sell out (Serena Ryder and Indigo Girls were headlining) so that tells you just how seriously to take my opinion on anything.

The Friday night main stage stuff started an hour earlier than in previous years (gates at 5:00, show at 6:00), which meant I wouldn’t have time to go home before the show. I loaded the lawn chairs into the car the night before so Mika could meet me downtown, and I had to bring a full change of clothes to the office. An inconvenience, but little did I know how much that extra hour would pay off. Foreshadowing!

Mika was able to skip out of work early and wait in the line which stretched from the main gate, down the corner, and around the block. With the two other writers in my office both away for an extended period, work had been a bit of a mess for me, but I skipped out as early as I could (which is to say, I left at my scheduled time, which was early for that week). Once inside the park, we nabbed a prime spot right by the sidewalk. We were quickly joined by Other James, along with concert review rookies Glenn (another coworker pal) and his wife. Mika reminded me that last year, Other James made it his life’s goal to keep the pathway clear so people could get to their seats. He did not have to do that this year. Clearly, his reputation had spread – though not quite far enough, as he did have to tell one dude to get out of the way at one point.

Apart from my usual Folk Festival goals of watching the show and marrying the kettle corn truck (I will not be denied!), I also had to meet up with Geoff Berner. Eons ago, I contributed towards a crowdfunding campaign for Berner’s first novel, Festival Man. I promptly forgot about this until one day, the book showed up in the mail. “Hooray,” I thought, “I got a book!” And unlike most books I buy, I actually read this one. It’s good! Funny. A quick read. Probably not as exaggerated as one might hope.

In conjunction with the novel, Geoff organized an album of covers of his own songs by folks like Corb Lund, Carolyn Mark, and Rae Spoon. I am on Geoff’s mailing list, and I follow him on Twitter, so I saw numerous messages saying that he’d been sending out Festival Man records, and if yours hadn’t arrived, you should let him know. I paid these no mind. They did not apply to me. I got a book! Then Geoff messaged me personally on Facebook to see if my record had arrived yet. Puzzled, I went back two years into my email archives to discover that I had, in fact, ordered a record. I got a record! And Geoff offered to hand it to me personally at the Folk Festival. He probably came to regret this decision once I started pestering him with other questions. Sorry, Aaron – the Live in Oslo album really IS as out-of-print as it gets.

But back to the Folk Festival. Our host was… who the hell was our host? It’s been so long, I have to look it up. The internet says it is Colby Richardson and he is a local comedian and improv guy. Sounds right. He didn’t leave any great impression on me. This sounds like a negative. I assure you it is not. I want the host to run the show, not try to BE the show. PHOTO OP PHOTO OP PHOTO OP

The first band was Elliott Brood. I was glad they were on the bill because I remember seeing them at Amigo’s years ago and really liking them. The only problem with this is that… um… apparently I never did? I was sure that I had. Mika was there. And Megan and Ian. I’m certain of this. Maybe I made plans to go but they fell through? I just did a detailed search through all 200 previous concert reviews, and nothing. Not even a mention of them. It seems impossible that I haven’t used the word “brood” once in 200 reviews, but Word doesn’t lie. Does it? The find-and-replace thingy is finding other words just fine. I feel disillusioned. What is true?

Anyway, if I really never did see Elliott Brood before this, it’s a shame. They were really good. Mika was surprised at how many of their songs she knew, while I only knew one (Oh, Alberta – which I think is the one song everyone who knows only one Elliott Brood song is likely to know – and also, if I only know one song, maybe I never did see them before? You’d think I’d have picked up another one somewhere along the way). It sounded like they were playing a lot of newer songs. At one point, something happened to an amp (I think the technical term is “it broke”) and they switched seamlessly into a semi-acoustic set. Probably stressful for the band (though they didn’t show it) but one of those things that’s neat for the audience. Something a little different from the norm.

I cannot handle this situation. Did I Eternal Sunshine that Amigo’s show right out of existence? Because I wish I hadn’t. I like these guys.

Children’s entertainer and perennial RFF host Al Simmons did the teaser set between acts. Around this time, I got a text from Geoff asking me to meet him stage left. Perfect timing. I met up with him, though only after learning that stage left is the PERFORMER’S left, not the audience’s left. Bit of a detour. I picked up my record and we chatted for a bit. Friendly guy! Almost came across as shy to talk to in person. He had a teaser set scheduled for later in the evening and was wondering what he should play. If I’d been quicker on the ball, I’d have made actual requests (Iron Grey and Wealthy Poet are favourites) instead of suggesting the song he wrote for the Vancouver Olympics. If you’ve never heard this song, all you really need to know is it’s subtitled “The Dead Children Were Worth It!” And there’s a children’s choir. Because of course there is. There has to be.

I got back to my seat just in time for the start of Mexican Institute of Sound. This was electronic dance music that I paid precisely no attention to and, thus, this will be the only time I mention it. Colin stopped by to tell me that he’d had a few beers and found himself greatly enjoying the music of Al Simmons. Wisely, he recognized that maybe this was a sign that he needed to eat something. I left with him – he needed some sobering up starches and I had promised Aaron I’d buy him a copy of the Festival Man LP, as well as a copy of the novel. Colin was baffled by Aaron’s love of Geoff Berner, which reminded me that he had come with me to a Berner show in 2006 at O’Hanlon’s that could politely be described as “a goddamned mess.” I am honestly not sure if Colin has come with me to a concert since then.

I sent Colin on his way and picked up Aaron’s stuff, as promised. While in the stuff tent, I also got myself Berner’s Victory Party on vinyl, as well as his 7″ When DD Gets Her Donkey, Everything Will Be Alright. The last one! Maybe ever? Probably not. Regardless. I had hopes of finding some Joel Plaskett vinyl too, but was denied.

Back to our spot again and Mika left in search of food. She was gone approximately twenty-seven hours. While she was gone, Colin returned with food and Evelyn stopped by too. Basically, everyone in the park was someone I work with, at least as far as you know. We discussed Colin’s everyman appearance and how I see Colin variants all over the place. Just today, I saw Fat Colin, one of the regulars at the mall. I have also seen Tall Colin and Old Colin around. Evelyn added that Sam Roberts could pass for Famous Colin. I looked forward to seeing this for myself. Foreshadowing!

Mika returned, complaining that all the lines were too long so she opted for a hot dog because it was the quickest option. I went to get my own dinner and found that the lines had dissipated. I got Afghan Cuisine falafels and rice. Tasty. Needed some kind of sauce though. After I was done, I went back for kettle corn but didn’t actually get into it until the next day. You don’t want to rush kettle corn. You want to savour kettle corn. It only comes around once a year. (“actually, they’re at the Farmer’s Market som-“) IT ONLY COMES AROUND ONCE A YEAR. OTHERWISE THERE WOULD BE PROBLEMS. GLUTTONY PROBLEMS.

Geoff Berner played his teaser set, but unfortunately only got time for two songs – Condos and The Rich Will Move To The High Ground. Both good; neither are my favourites. This was a much more fitting venue than O’Hanlon’s but I still got the sense that people didn’t know what to make of him. Understandable. I think he’s very much a love-him-or-hate-him act. I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to make his daytime solo set the next day. He works best with smaller crowds.

Joel Plaskett Emergency was up next and this might have been my all-time favourite set in RFF history. Joel Plaskett is the best guy. He played a whole bunch of songs I know and like (though nothing that would be really surprising if you’ve seen him in concert before). Among the highlights were two new songs that aren’t out yet. You know how nobody wants to hear a band play the new songs? These new songs were both great and I want them right now. One was called Park Avenue Sobriety Test; I’m blanking on the name of the other. I really should take notes for these things and/or not wait to write reviews a month after the fact. It’s shameful how much time I spent putting the meeting Geoff Berner / talking to Colin / talking to Colin and Evelyn / Mika getting food / me getting food segments in chronological order.

Anyway. After a bunch of songs, Plaskett sent the band to the back to do a song by himself. But rather than playing his guitar, he plugged in iPod and sang Fashionable People. Specifically, the kids’ version from the CBC. Where he sings with a talking yam. This was #1 and the greatest thing I’ve ever seen. I have never felt such delight.

I’m a hot dog
And dressing up is fun
So let’s
get
dressed
in a
hot dog bun

I’m seriously super happy right now just thinking about it. I don’t even care about my Elliott Brood mental degeneration crisis anymore.

DRESSED UP IN RED
DRESSED UP IN GREEN
DRESSED UP IN BLUE
THINGS

And then the band came back and played the bass line to Work Out Fine while Joel sang Royals. And Oowatanite. And Kung Fu Fighting. And then he introduced the band as being the cast of Stripes. And then Do Wa Diddy Diddy. “She looked good (looked good), she looked fine (looked fine), she looked good, she looked fine, here’s a song called Work Out Fine.” And then Cupid and then Work Out Fine some more. Wonderful. The whole set could have been the Mamma Yamma Fashionable People and snippets of 100 songs sang over the bass line to Work Out Fine and it would have been the best show I’d ever seen. Joel Plaskett is a delightful human being and he really should move out to Saskatchewan and play here every day.

Leonard Sumner came out for his teaser set and it started to rain a little bit. Mika suggested that I take the records and book to the car. Smart thinking. Gotta save your treasures and also get a frozen banana if you’re up anyway. I ran into Mary. She thought my banana was hilarious. If I had a nickel…

My banana and I returned a few minutes into the set by Blitz the Ambassador, a Ghanan hip-hop artist. I was just starting to get into the show when our MC took the stage to announce that because of the lightning in the area, they were temporarily shutting the show down. We weren’t in any immediate danger, we were told, but they had to wait and see what the weather was going to do. About fifteen minutes later, we got the word that the rest of the night was cancelled. No Sam Roberts for us. We packed up and off we went.

Now, the Regina Folk Festival always has an after-party. Elliott Brood, Mexican Institute of Sound, and Royal Canoe were scheduled to play there. I briefly considered going, thinking that Sam Roberts might play there, but we opted to just go home. From what I heard, Sam Roberts tried play a few songs at the after-party, only to have the power go out and the after-party shut down too. It almost sounded like they were kicking everyone out when the power came back on and he eventually did play a few songs. At that point, that’s above and beyond the call of duty.

As for us, on the way to the car, we wound up walking alongside Geoff Berner, who assured me that he didn’t HAVE to leave, he was just following people. We wished each other well and Mika and I went home. We were inside our house for about five minutes before the rain hit. The power went out about 5 minutes after that. The wind and rain sounded like it was going to rip the house apart. For Glenn and his wife, who live out in White City, it kind of did. He later said the damage wasn’t severe, but the cab had to drop them off two kilometres from home; it couldn’t get any closer due to downed trees and power lines. This was after they had gone for drinks with Other James and wound up using patio tables to build a sort of dam to keep water out of the restaurant’s storage room. Eventful night. Not sure he’ll come to a show with me anymore either.

UPCOMING SHOWS THAT NEITHER GLENN NOR COLIN WILL ATTEND WITH ME, AS FAR AS I KNOW
• Glass Tiger (September 27)
• The Smalls (October 24)
• Gordon Lightfoot (November 7)
• Buck 65 (November 14)