Rude, Rude Rudy
Robbie Gennet's piano melodies are disarming little devils. The creamy rhapsodies trickling from his keyboard sound so classically familiar, so refreshingly catchy. Those rich tones emanating from his Fender Rhodes electric piano reverberate with such comfort, yet feel so vibrant. At first encounter Rudy, the quartet Gennet fronts with unmitigated verve and glee, seems the perfect little pop-rock quartet. The band's simple song structures are restrained, yet the musicianship is adventurous. On stage the musicians toss knowing looks of approval toward each other like Frisbees, their easy smiles and joyful demeanor working quickly to seduce the uninitiated listener.
And then the lyrics sink in.
Blushingly bawdy, Gennet is the Frank Zappa of South Florida. His topic material knows no taboo, his verses no shame. By the standards of any community Gennet is out there. Way out there. But he's hilarious. "That's who we are," he asserts, explaining his and his band's penchant for lingerie-laced lines such as "Let me take your panties off with my teeth/I want to see if Chewbacca is hiding underneath," from "Pooter," or "What are you gonna do with all the love you're hiding in your underpants/Maybe we can take 'em off and do a little naked dance," from "The Underpants Song." "That's our sense of humor. That's what we find so funny. A lot of people don't hear what I'm saying, and then when they do..."
When they do, they usually like it, if the crowd response during recent performances at Power Studios in Miami's Design District and at the Sandbox in Hollywood is any gauge. That Gennet's lyrics would attract so many appreciative, open minds is not all that surprising, despite the lyrics' risque nature; they are the natural product of these highly irreverent times. In fact Gennet would probably fare well as a turn-of-the-millennium standup comic, though in this case sit-down is more accurate, since he usually remains rooted to his piano bench as he delivers his acerbic observations. And his wit is quick too; his bandmates call him the King of the One-Liners.
At the Sandbox, in less than 30 seconds between songs, the wild-eyed singer's banter went from a simple joke about pool tables to a slightly off-color "Would anybody like to play a game of poon?" to "We could drink some Tang," to "I hear Disney's coming out with a new drink called Winnie-the-Pooh Tang." No one seemed offended. Both the men and women in the club, at least those paying close attention, laughed hysterically. Drummer Howard Goldberg responded with a quick comedic rim-shot before the band launched into the next song.
The song was even more familiar than the previous one; though the instrumentation was somewhat twisted, the piece soon became recognizable as ZZ Top's "Cheap Sunglasses." But in the hands of Gennet the song was no longer a schmaltzy paean to inexpensive eyewear. He'd edited the lyrics: "When you wake up in the morning and the light hurts your head/You look so white and pasty that you'd just as well be dead/You hit them streets a runnin', and you try to wear sunglasses/To look at the girls with the big fat asses."
Rude, yes. But that's simply Gennet's unflagging ribaldry flowing unchecked and uncompromised. He says the rewrite came to him on the spot during a recent gig at the Speakeasy in West Palm Beach, a regular Rudy haunt and the scene of an August 17 release party for the band's debut CD, Booty. (The following day the band opens the H.O.R.D.E. Festival at Coral Sky Amphitheatre, the only local band on the bill.) Taking such liberties with lyrics on the spur of the moment is a Rudy trademark. While most of the group's in-concert material is original, the stray cover tune often falls prey to such random Genneticisms.
Van Halen's "Mean Street" is a common victim. So too Paul Simon's "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover," "Cool Change" by the Little River Band, or the theme from The Love Boat. "We'd always throw in some covers," Gennet explains, "but usually we'd try to get far out and do stuff that people wouldn't expect. We've done Iron Maiden tunes, and a Kiss medley."
All this with an electric piano or a funky Hohner Clavinet as the lead instrument, and with no guitar. Blazing six-strings aren't missed, though. The band does just fine, hustled along by Gennet's practiced touch on the keys, Goldberg's crisp drumming, Johnny Gobel's fluent bass passages, and the slick Latin percussion of Rey "Conga" Diaz.
Rudy has been a regular attraction on the South Florida club scene since early 1996. The band went through several lineup changes before the current foursome became permanent in December of that same year. The group's roots go back much further, however. Gennet and Goldberg have known each other since the sixth grade and put together their first band, Fart Squad, when both were feeling the first gassy tinglings of puberty. They drifted in and out of each other's bands during their matriculation at North Miami Beach Senior High School and as the years after graduation passed on.
Gennet has enjoyed the most success in recent years, touring as a sideman in the early '90s behind Miami's Saigon Kick and for the past two years, when called upon, with Orlando's Seven Mary Three. (He's on tour with the band through October, taking days off to enable Rudy to make H.O.R.D.E. Festival appearances in West Palm Beach; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Atlanta.) In 1997 he released a CD titled The Dream, credited to the Robbie Gennet Band, with the help of area musicians Groovey (currently guitarist with Company Kane), drummer Eric Larriviere, and Sixo bassist Debbie Duke.
Because of Gennet's semiregular touring schedule, the other members of Rudy keep busy with side projects as well. But, despite their numerous outside collaborations, the four musicians stick together in the freestyle, jam-oriented Rudy, they say, because they've grown tired of chasing the much-ballyhooed recording contract.
"The initial game plan was to have fun," Goldberg explains. "To remember why you started playing your instrument. We'd all been through the whole, 'Let's get a deal, let's get signed, let's bust our ass seven nights a week rehearsing and passing out fliers at all the clubs.' And then everyone comes to the realization after a while that ain't gonna work. You can have a good time, get out there, and do what you want to do, and still attract attention."
Rudy started the attraction process by booking shows without benefit of prior rehearsal. The fledgling band would simply take the stage and improvise. Two songs were often all that were necessary to complete a 45-minute set, Gennet spouting off nonsense lyrics as the chord changes came to him. "We just played, and the songs changed so much from night to night," he recalls. "The songs had a loose-enough structure that we could just jam them out. If you saw us two nights in a row, you'd see two different shows."
After close to 150 such performances -- the group was averaging three a week, while maintaining other musical commitments -- they began to record their shows, listening intently afterward to see what had transpired. Soon, previously impromptu grooves solidified into something the four could repeat. Actual songs developed. That led to the group booking studio time at Associated Audio in Fort Lauderdale earlier this year for the tracking of Booty, which they completed last month. The disc features one melodious composition after another, all cut with the sneaky humor of Gennet's saucy lyrics. References to panties and porn stars abound, as do those devilish piano riffs. Is he afraid of angering anyone in the audience? Hardly. Like most local musicians, Gennet's biggest concern is that South Florida residents just won't care.
"Let's be fair: People aren't listening down here. I dare anybody reading this article to go out, see a local band, and buy one of their CDs. I dare you. I double dare you. We're not playing the H.O.R.D.E. Festival for nothing."
Actually, they are, but money isn't what he's referring to. The band got the slot after entering a competition, sponsored by a tobacco company, earlier this year. That "Band-to-Band Combat" success secured Rudy and 29 other unsigned acts from around the country spots on the festival's Second Stage at 40 venues in the United States. Rudy also landed a track, "Brownies & Lemonade," which appears on Booty, on a CD featuring those 30 bands. (The CDs will be given away to adults age 21 and over at the festival.)
It's unlikely that H.O.R.D.E. audiences will see anyone quite like Rudy, though. "We can't compare ourselves to anybody else but ourselves," Gennet contends, "because we're not even thinking about what else is going on in the scene."
The H.O.R.D.E. Festival takes place Tuesday, August 18, at the Coral Sky Amphitheatre, 601-7 Sansbury's Way, West Palm Beach. Gates open at 3 p.m., and tickets cost $25. Call 561-793-0445. See "Concerts For the Week" for complete concert lineup.
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