Hairball marks 20 years of celebrating arena rock

What began as something silly two decades ago has become what is billed now as a bombastic celebration of arena rock.

“It started as a joke and it morphed into a career,” said Michael “Happy” Schneider, lead guitarist for Hairball, who perform on March 6 at Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet as part of the Minnesota-based band’s 20th anniversary tour.

“Hairball started in clubs as tongue in cheek to poke fun at some of the 1980s characters. The costumes were silly and there was more adult humor that was fitting for a nightclub atmosphere.

“Slowly over time we just upped the quality of the costumes and more started paying tribute to it but really tried to recreate the vibe and the energy that these artists did. Then we started upping the rock show just like these rock bands did when they toured.”

Everyone’s youth was different, but there are certain things that all of us have in common, and that we want to share with the next generation.

Lead vocalists Joe Dandy, Bobby Jensen and Kris Vox; bassist Brian “HBK” Hollenbeck and drummer Billy Thommes round out the lineup for Hairball.

“It’s really the Mount Rushmore of rock ’n’ roll. The cool thing about Hairball is it may start out being Van Halen. Then five minutes later it turns into Kiss. In another five minutes it maybe turns into Queen and Aerosmith and Alice Cooper,” said Schneider, who has been part of Hairball for 18 years.

“People are definitely going to get a visual assault. It’s not just the music. Hairball is definitely theater. It’s like seeing 20 concerts smashed and condensed into a couple of hours but you’ll know everything we do.

“When you see the costumes and these characters come around the corner, you’re going to know right away that it’s Twisted Sister or whatever it would happen to be. That’s just what we do but we do it louder than anybody else does it and we deliver it with intensity.”

Hairball’s shows also include lights, props and pyrotechnics.

“I really just enjoy feeding off of what’s going on with the audience. I always enjoy the very opening of the show because it’s fun to come out and lay the law down and see the faces and the energy of the people,” Schneider said.

“It’s also cool to see the surprise on the faces of people who maybe have never seen Hairball before. We’re doing stuff from the 1970s. A lot of it is from the 1980s period. If you’re in your 50s and 60s, I’m going to put you back in high school.

“If you are 10 years old I’m going to show you why AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses and Kiss are so cool. When I see that 10-year-old next to that 50-year-old and I see them both singing the words to the songs, then I know that we’re doing good work and that’s when I think Hairball is as its best.”

Schneider said seeing the band Kiss perform live drew him in to arena rock.

“My very first concert was Kiss in 1978. From the first time when I saw that show, I was hooked,” he said.

“It’s really something that never ended for us. We’re all doing the same things that we did when we were in junior high school. The only difference now is we have insurance and we pull pyro permits.

“We’ve all known each other for decades and many of us have played in different situations. It’s a brotherly relationship because as people we’ve been through so much together because we travel together. We get to experience new places.”

In addition to touring the United States, Hairball has performed in places including Amsterdam, London and Mexico.

Hairball’s fans have helped keep the band going while on the road as well as through personal struggles such as Schneider’s diagnosis of Stage 3 esophageal cancer.

“We are completely about having a good time and taking you away from your problems. We are the great escape and that’s what’s important,” said Schneider, who has been in remission for nearly two years.

“You can bet that I do not take for granted the fact that Hairball has been going for 20 years and every month that I get to be on stage and play and share what I love so much with people. This Hairball production keeps getting bigger.

“If you’re into being happy and smiling and enjoying good rock ’n’ roll, we’ll see you at the Rialto.”

Hairball

When: 7:30 p.m. March 6

Where: Rialto Square Theatre, 102 N. Chicago St., Joliet

Tickets: $27.50-$35

Information: 815-726-6600; rialtosquare.com/event/hairball

Jessi Virtusio is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown