Ear Infection

My kid's getting circumcised tomorrow; I can't stop apologizing to him," Rudy drummer Howard Goldberg tells me upon our introduction at a recent gig at the Hole in Hollywood. Being a big-hearted and sensitive Infection, I respond that I'll have a drink in one-week-old Zachary's honor. "Have two, he'll appreciate it. I'm gonna take pictures tomorrow morning beforehand, so that when he's 16 and gets his first girlfriend, I can pull them out and show her," Goldberg laughs.

Rudy's conga player, Rey 'Conga' Diaz, chimes in: "You pull those photos out when he mouths off. Tell him, 'See what happened the first time you mouthed off? Next time it's the whole thing.'" The entire band, including keyboardist-vocalist Robbie Gennet and bassist Johnny Gobel, bursts out laughing. Goldberg then tells how he's planning to hang the excised foreskin from his rearview mirror.

It's the kind of off-color joking that sets the tone for a Rudy show. The band is infamous for its gutter-level comedic lyricism but also renowned for the foursome's substantial musical talent. Over the last three years, Rudy has developed into one of South Florida's most underrated acts, despite the high profile the band received when it toured with the H.O.R.D.E. festival last year. The band's successes have been substantial -- netting sound spots on MTV's Road Rules and The Real World series; receiving radio airplay in markets as unlikely as Lubbock, Texas; a recently announced JAMMY nomination from Florida's Jam Magazine for best funk band in the state -- yet Rudy's regular Thursday-night gig is at a minute venue with a capacity of 40 people. But make no mistake, the Hole is packed on those Thursday nights.

"You notice how the regulars clear out once we start setting up?" Diaz asks. "These guys sit here from noon until we get here, but once they see the equipment, they're outta here." That's when Rudy's crowd of mostly longhaired twentysomething guys filters in. Last Thursday night there were a cumulative six women present while Rudy was playing, while the other 85 percent of the crowd were XY-chromosome-endowed.

While the band begins to settle into position on the small corner stage, Goldberg and Diaz roll out a percussion jam, then Gobel joins in on his bass, matching the groove of the drums and laying down a carpet of funk -- not the polluted, rock-styled crossover funk you're likely to hear on rock radio but a genuinely laid-back, slithering funk. As Gennet finishes tinkering with his Hohner Clavinet D6 keyboard, he looks to Gobel's hands, and Gobel shows him the notes he's jamming on; after that Gennet takes off with the melody, headphones on, gazing back and forth between his keys and Gobel's hands, injecting a distinctly jazzy element into the tune. The grooves become increasingly tighter over the next few moments, while the band's dynamics weld together into a single soulful entity.

After the introductory jam, the band kicks into "Stickin' Around," a tune with the same simmering funk dynamic and lyrics about crack and hookers in an alleyway, rashes, and painful urination. While Gennet sings he gesticulates at the audience, crooning about Barry White being his favorite singer. ("I've got his poster on my wall.") Gennet's head bobs while he rocks the Clavinet, eyes squeezed shut with intensity, grin soldered across his face. Rudy then kicks out its classic salute to the female form, "Pooter," from the band's album Booty. Part deep-laid funk and part standup comedy, "Pooter" is chock full of lines like, "I've got an extra finger, but you fit me like a glove" and "I like smelling pooter almost every single day." The women sitting near the stage blush and giggle as Gennet directs his serenade their way.

After the comedic interludes, the band busts into a series of instrumentals, locked into a tight groove that's near epic in its proportions. At a break in the songs one of the longhairs in the audience yells, "Play Iron Maiden!" -- a request that might seem odd, but the band breaks into Maiden-style thrashing, Gennet playing the guitar line on his keyboard and shrieking unintelligibly. The bar goes wild, and the band finishes with a flourish. "Is that what you wanted to hear?" Gennet asks smiling.

Shortly after the Maiden experience, the band breaks briefly, telling the audience, "If you've got any dope, start getting ready to light it on fire," but there's no ensuing consumption of any controlled substance. The band's dope donation bucket stands empty. But the lack of euphoric implements goes hardly noticed. As cliched as it sounds, Rudy gets high on itself, blending the mind-freeing elements of spaced-out funk with the comedic relief of its subject matter and between-song banter. Not necessarily a formula for conventional success but one that allows the band a no-constraints outlet that's as genuinely artistic as it is funny.

-- Brendan Kelley

Rudy plays every Thursday at 9 p.m. at the Hole, 5713 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, 954-965-8888.

 
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