The feathered hair, Day-Glo colors and glammed-out fashions are relics of the past.
Kenny Wilkerson and his band Nova Rex have moved on from the hair-rock heyday of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Their booming vocals, knife-edged guitars, crashing drums and slithering basslines now showcase a more contemporary hard rock sound.
But even after nearly 30 years, the band can’t abandon the fun-loving ethos that made them so popular. And they’re bringing that show home this weekend.
Wilkerson, who grew up in Whiteland before leaving to find rock stardom in Florida and California, is bringing Nova Rex to New Whiteland for an album release concert today at Whit’s Inn Bar & Grill.
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The show will be a chance for fans to hear the band’s newest buzzsaw of an album, “Nova Rex: Rock Star Roadshow,” as well as giving nostalgia-fueled music fans a taste of the Decade of Decadence that launched their careers.
“Coming back to Whiteland, you can’t get any more hometown than this,” he said.
Wilkerson graduated from Whiteland Community High School in 1985. Music at that time was leaving behind the new wave and post-punk sounds that dominated the early part of the decade, ceding to something more fun and carefree.
The songs focused on screaming guitar solos and party-centric lyrics. Long teased hair, skin-tight leather pants, knee-high boots and other glam accoutrements were the style.
Nova Rex spent much of the mid-1980s and 1990s in the thick of the hair metal scene that birthed Motley Crue, L.A. Guns and Guns N’ Roses. They had a following in Florida and Los Angeles — both epicenters of the movement — but became local celebrities after returning to Indianapolis.
Their second concert upon returning to Indiana was with Cheap Trick downtown, playing in front of 20,000 people. They played sold-out shows at their home base, the Vogue Theater in Broad Ripple, and drew tens of thousands of people to concerts throughout the city.
Budweiser offered to sponsor Nova Rex, and they became the company’s official band.
Changes in the music industry, particularly the movement towards grunge and alternative, extinguished the momentum Nova Rex had made. By the mid-1990s, they had broken up.
Only when talks of a greatest hits album came up did Wilkerson get the band back together.
Over the past five years, Wilkerson has helped orchestrate a renewed interest in the band. He worked with Indianapolis film producers to make “It Ain’t Easy Being Cheesy,” a documentary looking at Nova Rex over the years.
They have been featured in a new film, “Hair I Go Again” with members of Warrant, Tesla and Quiet Riot. VH1 ranked them in the top 50 greatest hair bands of the ’80s.
Artifacts from the band’s career are preserved in collections ranging from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archives to the Johnson County Museum of History.
To go with their resurgence, Wilkerson has taken the band out on the road almost continually. They have spent the past few weeks in Sturgis, South Dakota, at the famed Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. On their way to a two-week round of shows in Canada, Wilkerson thought it made sense to play in New Whiteland.
“I was coming through, we just dropped the album a few weeks ago, so we’re excited about it,” he said. “It’s the hometown, man. They’ve never had a show like this.”
The concert will serve as an album release party for local fans. “Nova Rex: Rock Star Roadshow” is the band’s first new material in seven years.
“It was time,” Wilkerson said. “I was getting sick of playing all of the old songs from back in the day — which we still do — and it kind of happened.”
The songs maintain the band’s carefree spirit but exude a little bit more maturity. “Crank it Up” is a classic party song celebrating loud music. “Lock n’ Load” is a raucous banger, overflowing with roaring guitars and pounding drums, written as a tribute to the military.
“It still has that metal vibe to it,” he said. “But the songs we play from 1989, we couldn’t write songs like that. My brain doesn’t work like that anymore. It’s Nova Rex 2.0.”
What: A homecoming show and album release party for the hard rock band, led by bassist and Whiteland native Ken Wilkerson.
When: 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Where: Whit’s Inn Bar & Grill, 1020 N. US 31, New Whiteland