Knight Fever, Knight Fever

The Boogie Knights in white polyester lit the fuse on a retro-disco craze that exploded in college towns across America. Tempe was ground zero.

"Jamie's threatened to stop me from using the name Disco Inferno. What's that? He has a style permit on the Afros and the platform shoes? Anyway, the Trammps had that name 'Disco Inferno' first."

Brown, on the other hand, refuses to acknowledge Benewetch's existence. "I've never even met the guy."

In February of '95, Benewetch says, he scoured the local Phoenix rock clubs looking for talent he could mold into identikit disco idols. "I originally approached Tea and Sympathy, but they never returned my calls. Then I approached Lord Zen, which later became Liquid Zen."

Unlike musicians who hop on the lucrative disco express and never look back, Liquid Zen used its sudden infusion of dance tribute dollars to finance its CD of original music. Even so, the dual identity didn't last long, and Zen went on hiatus.

"We got fed up. Trying to get someone to see an original band at the Mason Jar was like pulling teeth," says Eric Storch, who along with his two bandmates is eyeing an original project somewhere in their future. "Doing six nights a week has made pros out of us. It's like our Olympic training. A 45-minute set will be a snap after this."

"We ain't been here in full force," J.J. tells the crowd during the Boogie Knights' January 5 set at Gibson's, "and we ain't gonna let that happen again." The guitarist's pseudo-apology is lost on most of the crowd, who seem unaware that a different set of Perfect World merchants played as the Boogie Knights on the same stage a week prior, filling in for the real Boogie Knights, who were in Vegas.

"I can tell the difference," insists Melissa, 23, who's in no condition to operate farm machinery anytime soon. Swishing her gin and tonic, she explodes, "The hair is definitely different. Their hair is definitely poufier!"

Another giveaway is that the original Knights, while occasionally bawdy, rely far less on smutty innuendo between songs than other boogie bands. As Engstrom notes, "Quite frankly, girls don't like hearing about some guy's dick."

Also, since the natural-born Boogies still set the pace, you'll hear more advanced song selections at their gigs. Lately, they've unleashed slamming versions of off-the-beaten tracks like Parliament's "Flashlight," and the impromptu treat of drummer Vinnie Guisseppi Tortelli stepping out from behind the drum kit, drink in hand, to deliver a thoroughly unsentimental stab at KISS' mushy ballad "Beth."

Funny as it is, Evening Star couldn't be happy to see J.J. bump and grind like Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys atop the baby grand piano they paid for for Todd Rundgren to play on the night before. That's show biz.

Hoping to cash in on--or manufacture--the next retro revue craze, Brown recently fashioned Metal Shop, a spandex-and-leather look back at a genre that may still be too freshly buried to, er, warrant exhuming.

During a Thanksgiving BK show in Vegas, Perfect World previewed its latest retro creation, hoping to reprise the Knights' original Halloween coup. So, how was the reaction to Metal Shop from the disco crowd? "Good," says Brown. "About 20 percent understood that we were being Spinal Tappish about it. The rest thought we were totally serious.

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