Geoff Berner with slutarded at Planet Kensington (1971/2 Baldwin), Wednesday (April 10). Free. 416-341-0310. "people who make fun of the ac-cordion can kiss my Jewish ass," says anarcoustic accordion player Geoff Berner from his home in Vancouver. "I played in punk bands for 10 years before I took up the solo accordion thing. I'm just as comfortable playing to punk rockers as I am to folk enthusiasts. Once they see my show, they get it. This is no Weird Al show."
You can find out what he means when the slight musician in the three-piece suit makes a stop in Toronto Wednesday at Planet Kensington with local art-punk cool kids Slutarded.
The show is his only Canadian date on his way home after touring Europe with throat singer and Björk backup Tanya Tagak Gillis.
Playing accordion, Berner argues, has always been punk.
"The accordion was massively popular in the post-war era, in total defiance of the desires of the major-label record companies of North America," he says.
"The record companies were having huge success with lounge music and crooners like Frank Sinatra. They were baffled by soldiers who came home wanting to listen to polkas. It was almost like a punk rock phenomenon, something that was in opposition to the modern notion of what was cool."
Berner calls his music anarcoustica, a term that captures what happens when musicians who grew up on equal parts Dead Kennedys and Leadbelly come of age.
He thinks of Billy Bragg as the godfather of the form. If Bragg is the godfather, then Berner must be the accordion prince, spreading the word about an explosion of young, dark music that's coming on strong in the West.
Thanks to acts like the Be Good Tanyas, Berner says, a changing of the guard has been fermenting in West Coast folk circles, where kids are rediscovering the summer festival circuit that's been the mainstay of old-school hippies and looking for music that's more relevant to them.
Berner has more than one reason to be enthusiastic about the success of the Tanyas' brand of Appalachian anarcoustica. He wrote their first single, Light Enough To Travel, and its airplay has provoked a wave of interest in his musical rants. Don't be surprised if the man and his accordion turn up April 12 at the Horseshoe to take the stage with his anarcoustic sisters.
It's not always easy for Western artists to tour in Ontario.
"Bands like the Tanyas, the Corb Lund band and Tanya Tagak Gillis and I have been playing the festival circuit in the West for four or five years, but it's hard to make touring in Ontario and points east profitable unless you have an established following. It's the old catch-22 about Western artists touring past the Winnipeg divide."
Berner wants to spend more time touring in the East after he releases a new album this summer. As a travelling accordion player, he says he identifies with other notorious road-weary players from the past.
"Che Guevara had an accordion. He played quite well. He and Fidel Castro's brother -- what was his name? -- the two of them had a little accordion band together in medical school. It's a good instrument for people who are on the move."