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The Sound

Hairball captures emotions of arena acts

5/21/2014

Hairball plays Nitefall on the River at the Simon Estes Amphitheater on May 29.

Hairball plays Nitefall on the River at the Simon Estes Amphitheater on May 29.

You’d be wrong to think of Hairball as just some parody or joke

“The group started as kind of a parody,” said Hairball guitarist Happy. “It wasn’t some great marketing plan; it just sort of evolved from something that started as a joke.”

OK, well then, you’d be wrong to think that’s ALL Hairball is. Consisting of six musicians — Happy, Freaky, Rockstar Bob, Kris Voxx, Joe Dandy and Colt Python — the Minneapolis-based tribute act is one of the more original ideas you’re apt to see. With more than 40 band impressions in its repertoire, Hairball is about keeping the feeling of ’70s and ’80s arena rock alive and well, one band at a time. It’s a mission that resonates with Hairball’s individual members, because that’s the music they all grew up with and continue to love.

“It’s the most fun I’ve ever had in my life,” Happy said. “The line between the audience and the band is a fine one, because we’re all just fans.”

When talking about the band’s origins, Happy doesn’t start just at the creation of Hairball itself. Rather, he looks back 30-plus years to when arena rock bands were shaping their young lives.

“We just embraced the things that we’ve loved since we were kids, dressing up like KISS and performing in the living room,” Happy admitted. “Now, we do what we do because we love the big arena experiences. Some of those great visual groups really set the standard in terms of showmanship.

“(Hairball) is everything we did as kids. It’s just more legitimate now.”

It’s that youthful exuberance that Happy feels allows Hairball to connect with as many people as it does. Whether you’ve seen the original groups live, or you’re experiencing classic rock for the first time, Hairball’s palpable enjoyment for its source material is contagious.

“Our demographic is cradle to grave,” Happy agreed. “One of the biggest charges I get is to look out into the crowd and see someone who’s 50 and standing there with their kid, and they’re both singing the words. If you’re 55 and you remember seeing (these bands), I like to think that we can put on a show and put you back in that place.

“But if you’re 10 years old, I think that we can introduce you to some of the greatest music ever made. You might consider us the gateway drug to KISS or Guns ‘n’ Roses.”

But of course, while Hairball’s show obviously calls for some serious musical dexterity, the bulk of the act’s appeal comes from the costumes and stage presence. And that’s where the bulk of Hairball’s budget goes as well.

“We spend more money on costumes and wigs than I’ve spent on gear in my life,” Happy said. “Sometimes our biggest issue is just keeping the tour truck compliant and under weight.”

But the look is the most important aspect and the thing that really sets Hairball apart. The act has gotten the chance to perform on bills with virtually every band it tributes, and everyone from David Lee Roth to Alice Cooper has given the band the stamp of approval for its authenticity.

But for the guys in the band, it’s not all about being slavishly devoted to recreating a time in music history so much as it’s about capturing the visceral emotion that those great arena acts sparked in listeners — a feeling that Hairball is helping to keep alive and well.

“We’re about the theater,” Happy chuckled. “Nobody dresses up as Tesla for Halloween.” CV

Chad Taylor is an award-winning news journalist and music writer from Des Moines.

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