Viking Storm, pt. II (Hammer No More The Fingers, The Future Kings of Nowhere, The Dry Heathens, Deleted Scenes, The Beast)
Duke Coffeehouse, Durham
Saturday, April 4
Hammer No More The Fingers could have been upstaged.
There was the matter of the 16-foot Viking warship—resting across the Duke Coffeehouse stage, adorned with shields representing each of the nine bands that comprised the Viking Storm lineup. Then there were the Future Kings of Nowhere, resurrected as a team of lanky (Minnesota) Vikings, purple jerseys and crisp white football pants included. And, of course, a Final Four victory for the Tar Heels.
But the night, as expected, belonged to Hammer. And the standard for album releases in the Triangle, as expected, was raised.
The set began and ended with a live rendition of Viking Storm's power-metal theme song, all the more forceful for the menacing vocal contributions of Tooth's J-Me Guptill. Not that Hammer needed any help, but when it came—from Guptill's throat or Pneurotic Rich McLaughlin's six-string—it was a complement, Hammer proving its command over the larger-than-life show hosted in honor of the band and its debut LP, Looking For Bruce.
But even in the two lengthy pauses in which bassist Duncan Webster and guitarist Joe Hall tuned their instruments, the dead air seemed intentional. Drummer Jeff Stickley filled in, doing his best Viking growl, and was greeted by warm laughter from the packed house, but it didn't matter. The music was the highlight, as it should have been.
Fresh off a two-week tour, the band played as tight as it ever has, running through a shuffled version of Bruce's tracklist, plus the unreleased “The Agency.” The crowd's response: clapping and singing along from the middle of the mosh pit that brewed up halfway into the set. And it was a response earned by the band whose far-fetched idea to throw a two-night, Viking themed album release festival, had come to glorious reality, horned helmets and fur vests woven into the crowd and dominating the band's on-stage attire—at least until it got too hot.
Indeed, the only force that seemed it might have been strong enough to upstage the headliner was The Future Kings of Nowhere, playing for the first time since announcing an indefinite hiatus in November. After four months of absence, FKON played as a lockstep sextet, borrowing members of The Drowsies to add horns, harmony and keys to Shayne O'Neill's breakup anthems. The crowd, which by this point filled the venue comfortably, responded by singing every word back at the band as if the hiatus never happened. The knowledge that this could well be the last FKON show ever served only to heighten the urgency of the set.
But still, the show belonged to Hammer, who took FKON's last-shot urgency and added explosive charisma and dramatic on-stage lighting for a definitive cap to the two-night local music bender.
Openers The Dry Heathens, Deleted Scenes and The Beast all played solid sets with plenty of their own highlights—The Beast's funky hip-hop spin on the Viking Storm theme song, for one—but lingered in the long shadow of the night's final act. Granted, that shadow shone like a spotlight, and was far from a bad place to be. The celebratory feeling began with the first drop of specially-brewed Viking ale and ended after 3 a.m. with the last handful of Viking warriors battling in the parking lot with foam weapons, emboldened by alcohol and a night of music they won't soon forget.