Beyond Axl: Why Hair Metal Is Back in Colorado

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When the announcement dropped this week that Guns N' Roses will headline Coachella 2016, a rumor that had been flying around for a few months was finally confirmed — and set pulses racing. The trio of Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan will play together under the GnR name for the first time since the 1990s. Nobody is sure if classic-lineup rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin will be involved, or whether Appetite for Destruction-era drummer Steve Adler or Use Your Illusion-era tub-thumper Matt Sorum (or neither) will be on the stool. But for now, the promise of the reunited trio is enough; there was a time when Slash's top hat coupled with Axl's iconic scream was the most exciting sight and sound in rock and roll. That the trio will reignite GnR at one of the country's top festivals — and that the idea of a potential tour has been met with such enthusiasm — indicates that audiences don't see hair metal as a tacky relic of the past

Many of you may be skeptical. The mere idea of returning to the music that brought Spandex onto stages all over the world may seem ridiculous as we enter 2016. Especially in Colorado, where the scene is perceived as being dominated by rootsy or electronic music. But we think sleaze metal, which early GnR embraced, deserves a closer look: Strip away the fashion, and you’re left with anthemic rock music infused with pop melodies. Or pop music with driving rhythms and cool guitar solos, with the big-chorus payoff signaled by a key change. We’re not here to say you should like hair metal/ sleaze rock/glam – but whether you like it or not, the genre might just be in for a full-blown resurgence this year.

The signs are there. For example, the Buffalo Rose bar in Golden and local promoters Wolfpack Productions have been bringing 1980s-era rock bands to the region since 2012, and have had real success doing so. Bands like Winger, Danger Danger, L.A. Guns and many more are playing a bar in Golden and nearly filling a theater-sized room. Why are Coloradans making their way to Golden to hear this music in relatively large numbers?

“A lot of it is that we push the heck out of our shows,” Anthony Lucero, owner of Wolfpack Productions, says. “A lot of people think it’s great that we bring these bands and they haven’t seen them in years. So a lot of it is getting the word out. The interest is there; it’s just getting the word out to the people who want to see them.”

Lucero believes that this music is making a big comeback, and this next year it’s going to be even bigger. “It’s not just in Colorado,” he says. “I see it in a lot of different places. I see a lot of bands coming back.”

He’s not the only one: Phil Sudberry plays with local sleaze-rockers Grind Cat Grind and hair-metal cover band Mr. Steak, and he believes that people just need to open their minds and ears.

“People really find when they come to these shows that there are a lot of great bands,” Sudberry says. “There’s a lot of great hidden talent that came out of the ‘80s that people maybe aren’t aware of today just because of the fact that these bands aren’t on the radio anymore. If you’re going to start all over and take some of these bands from the ‘80s and put them in constant rotation on the radio station and pound them down the throats like some of the stuff today, I think you would really find that a lot of people would like it. It’s disappointing these days when you go and see a show and you’re like, ‘That’s it?’”

In 2016, Wolfpack plans to bring a stellar bunch of bands to the Buffalo Rose, including Winger, Jetboy, UFO, Every Mother’s Nightmare, Britny Fox, Junkyard, and Phil Lewis & Tracii Guns and more, culminating in the annual Wolf Fest (lineup TBA).

New Orleans hard-rockers Lillian Axe will play in June. Guitarist Steve Blaze also believes that the '80s rock deserves some overdue credit. “Prior to the Ratts and Bon Jovis getting massive radio play, not many stations were playing rock music,” Blaze says. “It was all pop. Now, not only do you find that kind of stuff on classic-rock stations, but you find it on other stations, too. It was a time in rock that influenced everything else. A lot of the bands are still out there functioning.... As far as Lillian Axe is concerned, I have never once rested on any laurels. I strive to make every record monumentally greater than the one before it.”

For Sudberry, part of the role of this music in 2016 is to reintroduce the concept of decadence to rock and roll. “It’s really just about bringing back a fun era where things were wilder and crazier,” he says. “A lot of partying and people staying out late in the bars. Now, it seems like a lot of people call it early. The majority of people leave the clubs around midnight and get home, which is totally different than it was in the ‘80s. Then, everybody stayed out all night and closed the bars, and then went on to party for another two or three or maybe ten or twenty hours. We’re just trying to bring back that party atmosphere. Not saying that everybody’s going to stay out and party until four or six in the morning anymore, but we’re just capturing that good time and fun while you’re here.”

You may be thinking, "Yeah, being an adult sucks, huh?" But there may be something to Sudberry’s idea of getting a taste of that bygone atmosphere while you’re at a show, even if you do have to get home so you can get up for work in the morning.

One band that was forced to grow up was Tryxx, a Florida-based 1980s group featuring now-Coloradans Kyle Kruger and Steve McClure. The band was only together for about a year before, in Kruger’s words, “life got in the way.” Later in that life, however, Kruger and McClure found themselves in the documentary-making business. They had the idea to put the old band back together and document the process. The result is the rockumentary film Hair I Go Again, which will premiere in Denver on January 13.

“We didn’t really get very far, but we had a lot of potential,” says Kruger of Tryxx. “We never quite closed the door on that, even thirty years later. We always had lingering what-ifs. What if we would have given it a shot? What if everybody had kept their eye on the ball? What would have happened? That’s the crux of it, and the inspiration behind our film was to see if we could go back and try to reform that band, and see if we could do something with it.”

For Kruger, it was a no-brainer to combine the idea of re-forming his old band with his current love of filmmaking. “We realized that if we made a movie about ourselves, who cares?” he says. “So why don’t we go out and find some of the rock stars from that era and interview them and get their advice? That was the first step, before we even tried to put our band back together. So it started with us on Facebook, e-mailing, begging and pleading to get anybody to talk to us. That took seven months, before we found somebody who would talk to us, and that person was Steve Blaze from Lillian Axe. We eventually spoke to guys from Anthrax, Motörhead, Tesla, LA Guns, Vixen, Keel, Dangerous Toys — you name the band and either we talked to them or we tried to talk to them. We got turned down, but we got turned down by some of the best.”

The reformed Tryxx ended up playing a show for Wolfpack at the Buffalo Rose, and then had a cameo on the Monsters of Rock cruise. Scenes from both shows appear in the film. By the time shooting wrapped, however, and despite the efforts at reunification, the band was already showing signs of splintering.

“Interestingly enough, history kind of repeated itself,” Kruger says. “Steve never wanted to do this full-time. He wanted to see how far we could get with it, but he has since returned to his career and left me holding the bag. I kind of have an incomplete band right now, but it’s my intention to carry it on. I’m writing more material, and we recorded three songs for the soundtrack. We’re playing with Lillian Axe on June 10, and we’re billing that as a reunion from the movie.”

At the end of the day, maybe glam-metal bands like Tryxx or the temperamental Guns N' Roses will always flare and fizzle too fast to last for long. Maybe music fans and the indifferent world are fine with that. After all, every rose has its thorn. But in and around Denver, through the efforts of Wolfpack, the Buffalo Rose and excellent local bands like Grind Cat Grind, it might be time to embrace rock theatricality once again — high kicks, big hair and all.

Hair I Go Again will be released January 13 at Harkins Theaters Northfield 18 in Denver. For more information, visit hairigoagain.com. For more information about Wolfpack shows, visit buffalorose.net.

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