"Mr. Lucky has been doing the lounge thing for years," says one fedora-sporting chap. "He used to sing over tapes because musicians didn't want to get anywhere near a lounge act. Now everyone's doing it." He motions to the side stage where Bud E. Luv is crooning The Love Boat theme.
"Look at Luv. He's like the Holiday Inn of lounge, and he packs 'em in."
Mr. Luv, decked out in an impressive '70s tux and an immobile coif of hair, works his audience with a mustachioed grin. The Love Boat lyrics take an ugly turn, "herpes sore" replacing "foreign shore," and his adoring fans go wild.
"I get all choked up on this one," offers a bleary-eyed man at the bar.
A young woman in a fluffy pink boa explains the appeal: "All my friends are here, and it's fun -- we drink martinis, dance, sing. We know all the songs."
Although the main stage is empty, people begin to stake claim to front-row standing room. A particularly eye-catching pair of gals dressed in fuzzy pastel bras, pedal pushers, and cashmere sweaters practice choreographed dance steps as Luv belts out "YMCA." They introduce themselves as Snaggle Puss and Cookie Puss.
"We just love the Psychedelic Lounge Cats," gushes Cookie, a Marilyn Monroe look-alike with matte-red lips and "champagne ice" hair.
"They do lounge versions of Ozzy," her partner in Puss adds. Her pigtails bob with perky abandon as she demonstrates "rocking out" to an easy-listening take on "Iron Man."
An unsuspecting woman and her date stumble into the club, their eyes widening with disbelief. "Oh, god. Is this some sort of lounge convention?" she asks. We nod and the duo make a hasty retreat. "Cookie Puss says you can't go wrong with a show like this," I yell, but they're already gone.
After Bud E. Luv's set, the crowd thins considerably, leaving mostly die-hard Lounge Cats fans. "Don't they know what they're missing?" wonders a gent with very wide lapels.
The Gentlemen of Leisure -- headed by the deranged and potentially dangerous Captain Dave of the Lounge Cats -- make their San Francisco debut in matching argyle sweater vests. This barbershop-style quartet plays a short but sweet set of material invoking both poor dental hygiene and Dick Van Patten.
Then Mike Jaffe, MC and member of the Mr. Lucky, the Gentlemen of Leisure, and the Psychedelic Lounge Cats, draws our attention to a video screen to take us "live, via satellite, to Pizza and Pipes in Redwood City, joined by Wurlitzer player Warren Lubich!"
After much technical difficulty, we watch Mr. Lubich tinkle the theme to 2001 as the camera pans the denlike pizza parlor. "Welcome to Loungepalooza!" he exclaims as he ends his miniconcert. This is too much, but there's more to come.
The Psychedelic Lounge Cats take the stage in haute '70s fashion: ruffled shirts, sunglasses, and Afros. Shaking their maracas, they dedicate the set to local off-key lounge legend Richard McGhee, who recently took ill and moved to Illinois to be with his family.
Frontman duties are shared by Captain Dave and Jeff Whipp, whose Pearl Drops smile, overemotive eyebrows, open-necked Hawaiian shirt, and flashy pinkie ring seem to scream, "Don't go changing, babe," as Whipp jumps into a rousing rendition of "Do You Know the Way to San Jose." But a special surprise cameo by Surreal Neil of Super Diamond steals the show: Attired in a glittery black skirt and combat boots, his heartfelt "Knights in White Satin" gets a heavy wah-wah backup and maraca beat courtesy of the Cats.
What does it all mean? Don't ask me -- I'm still intoxicated by the whiff of high-cheese. As I watched my peers gyrate and grin, I experienced a feeling of vertigo, as if I'd fallen into the set of a drug bust scene from an episode of the Streets of San Francisco.
And now you can even get your punk on-the-rocks: Black Velvet Flag served up a tumbler full of hardcore lounge last Sunday night at the Kilowatt. Yes, every band in the world may have thought about it, but this New York trio actually got their shit together and did it: that is, took classics like TSOL's "I Wanna Fuck the Dead," Fear's "I Hate You," and the Dead Kennedys' "I Kill Children" and regurgitated them into easy-listening tidbits.
Although musically unexceptional, the Flag and knobby-kneed vocalist Fred Stesney, his muscular bod tastefully stuffed into a little black dress, had the Mission denizens bobbing their heads and smiling.
Still, one heavily tattooed punk grumbled, "A couple of bad tattoos would lend them more credibility." Talk about sour grapes. All they really needed was a xylophone.
By Silke Tudor