Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Geoff Berner’s Pyrrhic Victory Party – One of the Year’s Best

Cynical, insightful, hilarious and iconoclastic, Canadian klezmer rocker Geoff Berner comes off as sort of the Eugene Hutz of current-day Jewish music. After wrapping up his Whiskey Rabbi trilogy, Berner made this ferocious, fearless latest one, Victory Party, with Canadian Jewish music maven Socalled. Berner is ironically more of a throwback to oldschool klezmer than any of the klezmer revivalists: in the days of the pogroms, klezmers (Jewish musicians) tended to be hellraisers, outcasts not only in society as a whole but often within their own culture as well, and Berner seems to embrace that fate as he calls bullshit on pretty much everyone who deserves it. This is a hell of an album, and ironically, though the music is more retro, less punk than his previous stuff, his vision is more fearlessly punk than ever.

The album gets off to a low-key, cynical start with the title track, a pyrrhic victory where the narrator journeys through a nightmare past “the charred remains of the orphanage, past the dogshit and corpses” to what poses for a party. “I knew we were right on the brink of our best years,” Berner remarks flatly. At his site, he explains that the song was inspired by the true story of a death camp survivor who “returned to Berlin to reclaim his bar. He paid German musicians to play klezmer tunes while he slowly drank himself to death.” Michael Winograd’s sarcastically blithe clarinet lights up the bouncy Jackie the Pimp, which offers an Iceberg Slim-style look at the downside of the profession. Wealthy Poet chronicles the ways the guy will help his girlfriend escape the oppressors, finally by giving her some matches so she can burn off her fingerprints at the border, the violins of Diona Davies and Brigitte Dajczer snarling and smoldering overhead.

The famous Yiddish-American protest song Mayn Rue Platz is transformed into a gorgeous duet with otherworldly vocals from Chinese-Canadian siren/erhu player Lan Tung. I Kind of Hate Songs with Ambiguous Lyrics is self-explanatory, and an instant classic, a song that needed to be written; Dalloy Polizei – a reworking of a hundred-year-old Russian Jewish folk tune – commemorates the murder of Ian Bush, shot from behind in police custody in Houston, British Columbia after being arrested for having an open container of beer. And with Berner’s accordion driving a cruelly amusing, deadpan, rustic shtetl-style cover of Canadian girlpunks the Sluttards’ I Am Going to Jail, he finds the commonalities between centuries of persecution of Jews, and centuries of persecution of nonconformists of all kinds.

A brutally sarcastic techno song, Oh My Golem explores the cruel irony of how the original, idealistic concept of Zionism was appropriated by genocidal, anti-Palestinian wingnuts in Israel. There’s also a plaintive, sad version of the waltz Cherry Blossoms, and a woozily slinky epic titled Rabbi Berner Finally Reveals His True Religous Agenda that pokes fun at religious cults. Savagely aware, catchy and contemptuous, this is refusenik rock at its best. Watch for this on our best albums of 2011 list at the end of the year if any of us are still alive to compile it.

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March 26, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment