In the dry heat over Afghanistan, Phil Kominski and his band’s military plane took enemy fire, forcing the pilot to dodge a spray of bullets, while en route to perform for service members in the fall of 2007.
Nearly five years later, with the heat index pushing 100 degrees, the Lloyd Dobler Effect was already an hour into its set last Thursday at the Washingtonian Center in Rockville. Kominski, lead vocalist and guitarist, was drenched in sweat as the band finished a trending favorite cover to a cheering audience.
Blending rock, pop and Latin flair, the Silver Spring band has performed more than 1,800 shows in 39 states and 15 countries — from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates to Wilmington, N.C. The band boasts a collection of more than 300 songs and seven albums.
In 2004, 2006 and 2007, the band headlined the Armed Forces Entertainment Tour traveling to Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern, Asian and Pacific countries.
“When we were in Afghanistan, we were on our way to a base in a C-130 and I started noticing that the plane was moving back and forth,” Kominski said. He turned to the soldier sitting next to him and asked what was going on. He replied they were being shot at.
“I kind of laughed, but then I realized he was serious,” Kominski said. Luckily, it was only small-arms fire with very little chance of doing damage.
At night, on the base, Kominski said he could hear explosions and gunshots. The base was kept dark so as to not attract the enemy’s attention, so personnel walked around with dimly lit glow sticks.
The five-member band sports a diverse lineup by adding percussionist Carlos Nalda to its ranks, who provides a “spicy kind of kick,” especially when the band does a 15-minute Latin version of “Happy Birthday” complete with congo solos, bass drum bumps and the distinctive sounds of the güiro and maraca.
“We are just trying to do something for the greater good and help people have a brighter day,” Kominski said.
“They are just fantastic. They are really versatile,” said Karen Della Torre, a fan and friend of the band.
The band formed in 1996, when Kominski and drummer Donnie Williams, now in their early 30s, attended John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring together.
“He and I hit it off really well; it just kind of clicked. We enjoyed writing together and had good chemistry,” Kominski said.
The band, named for actor John Cusack’s good-humored and romantic character in the 1989 movie “Say Anything,” played sporadic shows while the two went to college. Kennedy’s diversity had an effect on their music, pushing them to add elements of go-go and Latin music into their songs.
“As the years have gone on naturally we have incorporated [Lloyd Dobler] into our shows. We have that lighthearted approach with a good end goal,” Kominski said.
Kominski started playing music in middle school.
“I remember when I got my first guitar. I was 12 and my friend had one of those parents that kept a lot of alcohol around. My friend said if you get me a beer from the fridge, I’ll sell you one of my guitars. So, I did and he sold it to me for like 20 bucks or something,” Kominski said.
Within two years, he joined a local band.
“We were awful,” Kominski said. The band played one gig at a basement party, and after they played their first song the band began fighting and the show ended.
“I went up and acted like Axl Rose,” he said with a chuckle.
It wasn’t until after Kominski graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park, in 2001 that the LDE garnered fame. In 2002, the band won the HFStival’s Big Break contest competing against hundreds of bands.
After winning the contest, the band began touring full time.
In 2005 the band did 235 shows and drove more than 100,000 miles in the U.S., but today it keeps things more low-key by playing fewer shows as a full band.
“When you are young you want to tour all the time and make it big, but when you are older you want to balance your time with your family,” Kominski said.
Kominski has a 3-year-old son and a 7-month-old daughter. Williams also has two children. His son, Cole, 7, already is an accomplished percussionist and will make cameos with the band.
“They’re terrific guys and wonderful family men. They are very dedicated to their profession,” Della Torre said.
When the band is not touring, Kominski plays solo shows or plays with his wife in an acoustic band called Elizabeth, Phil and Chris.
“Keeping a band together takes a lot of communication,” Kominski said. “We email or call each other multiple times a day.”