Vancouver artist Geoff Berner brought his charming mix of comedy and music to Jazz Guys last Thursday with a brand new novel, Festival Man, in tow. Jazz Guys, though absolutely packed, felt tailor-made to suit the accordion player’s performance, which was impossible not to walk away from without at least a small smile or smirk. The laughter contrasted perfectly with moments of sadness. Intertwined, they resulted in a dark satire that touched on everything from abuse of power to Vancouver’s ridiculous housing market.
His music and the little introductions to each of his songs had dramatically different approaches. His hesitant pacing between songs made all of the punchiness of his comedy seem to come out of nowhere while remaining poignant, while the songs themselves cut straight for the laughs, over the tremendous backing of his accordion. The interplay between the two drove the show forward, making it all too brief in retrospect. The songs centred on relevant themes of pseudo-religions, Judaism, and the prevalence of injustice in society. Berner poked fun at the societal issues that are too often cast in such a stagnant, negative light that they are irreproachable; he opened them up and made them appear so incredibly unnecessary.
The anarchistic overtones emerged in the music as well, with a song entitled “Fuck the Police,” which was unfortunately not an accordion cover of the N.W.A. classic, though the mere thought of such a composition may be too whimsical to bear. They also popped up in constant allusions to starting a religion to deal with all problems, all washed away through a simple act of “spinning a chicken above your head three times to rid yourself of all sin,” with a donkey-based messiah to boot. But it was not all fun and games. Although Berner displayed a unique ability to keep one laughing, there was a feeling of deep sadness that did not lie far underneath the surface of his work. Undoubtedly, it is a product of hyper-awareness to the seemingly irresolvable issues faced by Canadians as a whole.
Berner’s Canadian tour was in concert with the launch of his debut novel, Festival Man, published by Dundurn. Following the misadventures of a Calgary folk music festival manager, the novel promises “digressions into the Edmonton hardcore punk rock scene, the Yugoslavian Civil War, and other epicentres of chaos.” The claim that it is “at turns funny and strangely sobering” mirrors the polarity of his mixed music and comedy routine, rendering the claim very believable.
In Berner’s show, the flaws of the life we live were brought to light and laughed at, yet still remained what they are. His comedy is not all of the kind grandmother’s find disagreeable either, as evidenced by Berner’s having a hand in writing a couple episodes of Sesame Street. Overwhelmingly, tactfulness ran through the night as if he knew who he was performing for, leaving very little regret for attending the small gathering in Sackville’s newest pub.