Accordions Über Alles
Polkacide, where punk mayhem meets jolly good bellows
By Richard von Busack
Ward Abronski was just a Philly kid running out of money when he moved west to go surfing in the 1970s. A graduate of the Berklee College of Music and a diehard fan of the avant-garde jazz of Art Ensemble of Chicago, he soon found himself in the percolating hotbed of Bay Area punk. Unimpressed. "I wasn't crazy about it until I heard Flipper," he says.
But something clicked, and Abronski decided to turn punk on its ear. "I knew some real musicians—some horn players—as well as some loud rock and rollers, so I went out to find some polka sheet music," Abronski says. Soon, fusing punk rock and polka, the ragtag group played at punk haven Mabuhay Gardens as part of a six-band bill. Polkacide was born.
Not to be outdone, the irony-soaked Bay Area punk scene embraced the band—ultimately, Abronski played the howling saxophone on Flipper's end-of-civilization anthem "Sex Bomb"—and the national news media descended on the novelty. But Abronski is less interested in tongue-in-cheekisms than the music itself, and talks passionately about the technical precision required to excel in a much-maligned genre.
In the last century, polka was the roots music among trans-Danubian émigrés in the Great Lakes and industrial river corridors. Schisms emerged: the polished Slovenian style of Frankie Yankovic, the innovative double-trumpet sound of Marion Lush. (Abronski admires the musicianship of the latter.) There's a Dionysian strain in Polkacide. Walter Solek himself, who wrote "Who Stole the Kishka?" and often performed with a rubber nose, fake boobs and a rubber piglet sticking out of the fly of his boxer shorts, would have loved Polkacide's "Weiner Dog Polka."
Polkacide are down to a handful of gigs a year, despite boasting the best lineup in the band's history. "Playing in a goofy polka band is not the path to fame and riches, but it's a family now, and I get to play with friends," Abronski says. "You can't beat that with a stick." Catch Polkacide at the Cotati Accordion Festival—which celebrates with Flaco Jiminez as headliner for its 20th anniversary—on Saturday, Aug. 21. The festival runs Saturday–Sunday, Aug. 21–22, at La Plaza Park in Cotati. 9:30am–8pm. $15–$17 per day; $25 both. www.cotatifest.com.
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