The Grex Factor

Before the World Series rose to an all-consuming fever pitch, stealing time from things like this blog, I went to the release party for the new Grex CD, Second Marriage.

This was in downtown Oakland very near to Jack London Square, at the Swarm Gallery — my first trip there.  It’s a small art house that doubles as an artists’ space; offices in the back appear to be rented out as mini-studios.  The show was held in the spacious common area ringed by the offices. Not a bad spot for a show, because they’ve got the space and it’s mostly comfortable, if a little warm.

Swarm is close to some seedy neighborhoods (quite a few provocatively dressed women walking around, anyway) but there weren’t any signs of trouble around us. I was more thrown by the sight of a Bed Bath & Beyond sitting right around where the Swarm’s address was supposed to be.

Grex’s sound fuses classical piano, pop melody, and loud spasms of electric guitar — big, buzzy electric guitar. Karl Evangelista and Rei Scampavia, who really are getting married, performed as a duo half the time, and with drums (Tom Scandura?) or sax (Cory Wright) as guests on the other songs. A friend of theirs added video backdrop.

It was a good show, and for those who bought the new CD, they auctioned off this home-grown, 10-pronged squash. Where else in music can you see a show and take home a 10-pronged squash?

Before Grex, I finally got to see Wiener Kids. They’re as entertaining as I’d hoped — maybe not as laugh-out-loud funny as my CD review made them sound, but certainly a nice blend of cerebral jazz and smart-aleck tactics. “Here’s a Fun Fact,” off the new album What a Mess, was a highlight. It opens with intricate percussion, each band member hitting one instrument to produce overall patterns. (They got lost once or twice during this part; it didn’t sound easy.) Whistles and bird calls complete the intro before the chugging, R&B-steeped sax parts get started. Glenn also brought out the accordion for “Ballad of the Wee Dogs.”

The evening started with Alee Karim’s Science Fiction, a pop band that deals in big, flowery chords. Pretty music played at very high volumes. The band’s still new — they did flub a couple of songs — but they’d be worth seeing again, and not just because a couple of them were outside during a break having an earnest discussion about the awesomeness of Rush.

Hamming It Up with Wiener Kids

Wiener Kids will perform, with a 10-person expansion, at Subterranean Arthouse, Berkeley, on on Friday, Sept. 23, 9:00 p.m.

Wiener KidsWhy Don’t You Make Me? (self-released, 2009)

Good music continues to find a home at Berkeley’s Subterranean Arthouse (told ya). Friday, they’ll be hosting a CD release show for Wiener Kids, a trio being expanded to a 13-tet for the occasion. I went and bought their first trio album on Bandcamp as preparation.

The band was just drummer Jordan Glenn and guitarist Steini Gunnarsson in its first phase, an apparently short period captured on the album, The Steini Year. (Great title.) Now Glenn has teamed with saxophonists Cory Wright and Aram Shelton for a decidedly jazzy sound documented on Why Don’t You Make Me?

There’s a lot of goofing around, as if the album title and cover didn’t tip you off, but the band is a serious vehicle for Glenn’s irreverent compositional ideas. They just happen to be ideas open to some silliness.

Not every track is funny, per se; the music is more like a sly, winking glance, like Groucho Marx breaking the fourth wall. But yeah, you have to like the bombastic tracks. “Nut Job” is based on a crazy, machine-like melody accented with raspy overblowing that just feeds the craziness. “Fruit Blasters” is downright jumpy and cartoony … and speaking of cartoony, “You’re a Baby Kozmo” has a playfully childlike riff that ends, again and again, with a ridiculously long baritone sax note. OK, that’s funny!

It’s all hammed up, but you know, I can dig that in music. (See also Reptet and What Cheer? Brigade.)  And plenty of free-jazz prowess shines through, to keep that part of your brain engaged.

Utter seriousness does invade on one track, “Ballad of the Wee Dogs,” which even has Glenn playing some gentle, sad accordion. It’s got a European feel with a touch of the sad clown in it, and I don’t think it’s meant to be ironic. It was jarring at first, but on repeated listens, it’s not so out of place.

All three members are all over the Bay Area creative-music scene, making Wiener Kids another of those ensembles that’s likely to surface only occasionally. And you’ll rarely see them with a 10-person add-on. Friday’s show promises to be unique and fun.