Lovingkindness hasn't performed in at least five years, not since the night at the now-defunct Foothill Club in Signal Hill where singer Monte Vista—the dinner-jacketed a.k.a. of rumpled ex-punk Tom Holland—fired the band halfway through the first set and tried to finish the show to the prerecorded accompaniment of his synthesizer.
"But the band didn't go quietly," Holland says. "They made picket signs and protested in front of the club—and even in front of the stage. Not that I cared. For me, Lovingkindness has always been about taking a stand for the music."
For just about everyone else, the music of Lovingkindness nearly always has been taking more than they can stand. So it was that last night at the Foothill.
"Eventually, the manager of the Ziggens came onstage and turned off the synthesizer while I was singing," says Holland. "He said some expletives, and the show was over. But that was A-okay with me. I got paid the same amount of money."
At the height of their popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Lovingkindness was often paid next to nothing for opening shows in small OC and Long Beach clubs—and even more often, they earned absolutely nothing at all.
"I imagine we got gigs because we were cheap and made the headliner look better," says Holland. "Because as a band, we never were that good."
And Holland promises Lovingkindness won't be any better when it reunites on Aug. 26 at Alex's Bar for its 20th Anniversary Pre-Labor Day Telethon Special, complete with Jerry Lewis-style tote board.
"We're going back to our lounge-music roots," says Holland. "In those days, it seemed that somebody in the audience was threatening to beat me up at every show."
That's as good as it gets for Lovingkindness, formed by four friends—Holland, Greg Gardner, Russ Remple and Mike Jensen—as a sort of act of 1984 desperation, although not the Orwellian kind.
"We were all friends from the punk rock days, but we could see that punk music was getting kind of pass at that point—everybody already beginning to do the same thing, which everybody is still doing now," says Holland, who just turned 40. "But we still wanted to be punk, and the only way we could think of was to play lounge music for punk rock audiences."
Lovingkindness started out playing traditional lounge music but eventually expanded its repertoire. Over the course of a typical evening, the band might include "Music to Watch Girls By," "Sweet Gypsy Rose," "Alfie," "Brandy," "A Day In the Life" and "Alone Again, Naturally." One night, they did a whole show of songs off a 1960s folk album by Charles Manson.
It didn't go over very well, which may have proved Lovingkindness' point about how deeply punk's rebelliousness had dug into predictability.
"We caused an uproar," says Holland, "I guess simply because we weren't playing what people expected."
Or maybe it was because Lovingkindness was a pretty crappy band. Either way, unprepared audiences reacted with anything but loving kindness.
"Our most physically dangerous show was when we opened for the Dickies," Holland recounts. "A riot broke out. I was completely covered in spit—at one point, a guy wiped my face off with a towel, Jesus-and-Mary-Magdalene style. A woman jumped onstage and dumped a chimney drink on me. But nothing was going to get us to stop. When people started throwing bottles, I tried to hide behind the drum kit, but when our drummer saw that they were aiming at me, he pushed me away. Finally, the sound crew for the Dickies got onstage and started pushing people off—but only because they realized their equipment was in danger."
Holland has plenty of less-violent war stories. Like the time Lovingkindness needed only four songs to clear out a Holiday Inn ballroom where they were playing a college-graduation function.
"The audience went from 200 or so to the one person who had hired us," Holland says. "And he stiffed us the $50 we were supposed to be paid."
Or the time Lovingkindness played the 49er Tavern across the street from Long Beach State. "The owner told me that not only did she never want us to play there again, but I was also no longer allowed to come into the bar to drink."
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Or the time "I got sick onstage," Holland admits. "I'd been eating Doritos before the show, and I went into this series of fast songs—like 'Bohemian Rhapsody,' 'Caledonia' and 'We Didn't Start the Fire.' Suddenly, I couldn't catch my breath. Just then, I got a whiff of a clove cigarette and, you know, sort of tossed my cookies—or my Doritos."
Its obnoxiousness notwithstanding, Lovingkindness actually foreshadowed the lounge-music trend later mined by the likes of Friends of Dean Martin, Combustible Edison and the just-as-obnoxious Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. More recently, Richard Cheese has earned airplay with his lounge-y takes on popular songs ranging from "Gin & Juice" to "Hot for Teacher."
"At its best—if you can use a word like 'best'—what Lovingkindness does is make outsider music and present it like guerrilla theater," says Holland. "Which is not to say we are original. Probably my biggest influence was Andy Kaufman and the whole Tony Clifton thing he used to do. So we are pretty much a rip-off of that."
Lovingkindness perform with Trucker Up at Alex's Bar, 2913 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 434-8292. Thurs., Aug. 26, 8 p.m. $3. 21+.