by Brian Farrelly, July 1998

That rarest of all musical specimens, "Hair Metal" proved itself alive and well at Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, New York on July 1, 1998, with a group known as The Alfee keeping the spandex torch alive. A three-man rock juggernaut from Tokyo, Japan, who've been touring (mostly Asia) for the past 25 years, The Alfee kicked it arena rock style and served it up with a side order of cheesy power pop.

I remember it like it was only last week. The sky was coated in the powdered Tang afterglow of dusk. I had a $4 dixie cup of Japanese beer in one hand, a bowl of Edamame (boiled soy beans) in the other and all was right with the universe. All, that was, until The Alfee came on-stage. Looking less like an international supergroup than a group of flamboyant morticians, they somberly picked up their instruments and stared aloofly at their adoring fans. Rhythm guitar player Kohnosuke Sakazaki was decked out in sunglasses and a black pinstripe suit, making him look like a two-bit hood in a second-rate gangster movie. Masaru Sakurai on the bass, was the mop-topped, bleach-blond, heart-throb of the band who exuded that magical David Hasselhoff charm that drives the ladies wild. And finally, guitarist Toshihiko Takamizawa, self-appointed leader of the group and certifiable wacko, was clad in a flowing black cape, platform shoes and teased up Victoria Principal hairdo, making him look like he was in the late stages of estrogen therapy for a sex change operation.

The moment they began playing, however, they sprang to life and the crowd, consisting mostly of young girls flown in from their fan club in Japan, went absolutely bananas. They screamed and howled like bobby soxers at a Frank Sinatra concert, except that “Ol' Blue Eyes” never had kids following along to his songs with intricately choreographed hand gestures. It is difficult to describe the sight of a mob of teenage girls wildly pumping their fists in the air, yet remaining completely in unison with each other, but from my seat, it looked like a cross between a wave at a football game and the mosh pit at a Pantera concert.

With their second song, though, I began to notice something else entirely. Namely, how similar the song's chorus sounded to a Fleetwood Mac intro and how the guitar interlude sounded like some old Yes crap I couldn't put my finger on. The next song was just as suspect and more easily identifiable. It read like a recipe out of some schlock rock cook book:

- 4 cups of Bon Jovi
- a pinch of Aerosmith
- 3 tablespoons of ELO
- mix vigorously with generous portions of laughably melodramatic orchestration, a la vintage Queen.

This last part was also true of the next song, a near litigious rip-off of Queens "Bohemian Rhapsody," with a note-for-note copping of Brian Mays head-banging, closing guitar riff. After a few more eerily familiar sounding tunes, my companions and I started a game a la "Name That Tune," where we'd see who could guess which song or group they were ripping off first. The Scorpions, Kiss, Thin Lizzy, Guns 'n' Roses, Boston and Def Leopard. They stole tiny bits from some and glaringly obvious chunks from others and basted it all in a generic heavy metal sauce. I'm not talking about your "Headbanger's Ball" metal, but rather your "dude looks like a lady," cheeseball, glam-metal variety – flash-in-the-pan bands like Warrant, Winger Whitesnake and Poison that ruled the pop charts and “Dial MTV” phone lines during the musical dark ages of the late '80s. Bands who you could tell spent more money on hairspray than on drugs and beer just by looking at them. These were the bands that The Alfee stayed up all night studying the videos of – them and Spinal Tap.

Indeed, while watching The Alfee, it occurred to me that this would probably be the closest Id ever get to seeing Spinal Tap live on this earth. From the 10-minute guitar solos, to the flash pots and fireworks blowing off every five minutes, to the constant costume changes (one of which saw the guitarist, Toshihiko, put on a sequined, gold jump suit that even Elton John wouldnt wear), to the on-stage smoke machine (which looked to be nothing more than a box with two midgets smoking Pall Malls cigarettes inside), The Alfee personified everything that was, is and ever shall be Spinal Tap. And like the Tap, one could not help but be entertained by it all because they were so bad, they were good (or were they so good at being bad?). Whatever the case, I just had to admire the heart, soul and total cluelessness they put into their show. Not since Laser Zeppelin at the Hayden Planetarium or Liza Minelli at Radio City Musical Hall have I witnessed a show with quite as much energy and pizzazz.

If I learned anything that night, and I'm not sure that I did, it's that soy beans and beer are one of the most tasty and nutritional meals I've ever had and that cheesy MTV metal is alive and well and living in the hearts, souls and hairspray-teased 'dos of The Alfee.


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