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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 but 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 at one another 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 topics know no taboo; his verses feel no shame. By any community standards, 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 find so many appreciative, open minds into which to filter is not all that surprising, despite their 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 stand-up comic, though in this case sit-down is more accurate, since he usually remains rooted to his piano bench as he delivers his earthy observations. And his wit is quick, too; his bandmates call him the king of one-liners. At the Sandbox, in less than 30 seconds between songs the wild-eyed singer's banter goes 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 seems offended. Both the men and women in the club, at least those paying close attention, laugh hysterically. Drummer Howard Goldberg responds with a quick comedic rim shot before the band launches into the next song.
This one is even more familiar than the previous, and though the instrumentation is somewhat twisted, the piece soon becomes recognizable as ZZ Top's "Cheap Sunglasses." But in the hands of Gennet the song is no longer a schmaltzy paean to inexpensive eyewear. He has 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 upcoming release party for the band's debut CD, Booty. (The following day the band opens the H.O.R.D.E. Festival, 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 no guitar. Blazing six-strings aren't missed; 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 line-up changes before the current foursome came together in December of that year. The group's roots go back much further, however. Gennet and Goldberg have known each other since 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 at North Miami Beach Senior High School and in the years after graduation.
Gennet has enjoyed the most success in the recent past, touring as a sideman in the early Nineties 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 that band through October, taking days off so Rudy can make other H.O.R.D.E. appearances in Charlotte 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.