When Jón Atli of Hairdoctor told me the opening line he was planning, I was expecting a rumble. Jón Atli is a small, well-groomed… well, pretty boy with a good voice who fronts Hairdoctor, and who likely has women call him to offer him protection or mothering on a daily basis. Insulting a band of four large, tattooed rockabilly musicians from Jacksonville, Florida seemed decidedly unwise.
“You should not pick on larger, more dangerous bands,” I said.
Jón Atli and Árni, the two thin members of Hairdoctor agreed, and promptly went onstage and picked a fight.
The fact that nobody cared indicated something wasn’t what it looked like—or at least that cheap assumptions about people with tattoos sometimes need to be abandoned.
For one thing, the most testosterone-fuelled performances of the evening were brought forward by the most innocent looking bands: Jan Mayen and Hairdoctor. For another thing, Kings of Hell, enormous and tattooed, were so pleasant, easygoing, and seemingly uninterested in the core of their songs—just playing the crowd and smiling—that you felt you were at a wedding.
Hairdoctor put up four slamming numbers, obnoxious and cocksure as self-conscious irono-pop can be. Úlpa played their best to a hostile crowd. Jan Mayen, who have played infrequently while putting together new material, got a screaming ovation, but a cold response to their new material, which seemed a little too simple and devoid of hooks to keep up with their remarkable Home of the Free Indeed album. The songs from their 2004 album are aging extremely well, in serious danger of becoming rock bar classics.
And then Kings of Hell came on. A red-haired monster of a Floridian walked onstage with a laughably spotless flame-painted double bass and began to display rockabilly basslines that the Stray Cats would have killed for. In a two-minute sound check, he stunned the entire crowd and got a screaming response. His reaction should have told us something: the 6 foot 3 giant looked more like an evil Viking than anybody on Icelandic shores, but the cheering embarrassed him so much that he turned a beet red across the face.
As the night went on, it turned out the master bassist was the attraction, musically. The other three members had excellent tattoos, and the frontman was also strong and smiled a lot, but lyrics about girls who talk to them at bars and don’t call back just don’t evoke royalty or hell. When Krummi of Mínus guested for two songs, the crowd perked up for a few minutes, but the songs didn’t match his range or timing, and miscues drained the energy from the performance.
We left wanting to like the Kings of Hell, and wanting to be nicer to people with tattoos in general, and, mainly, wanting to hear good music.