Is it possible that ten years have slipped off the calendar? It certainly seems so. The last time Duane Denison and Mike Patton’s supergroup Tomahawk played Los Angeles it was at the Henry Fonda Theatre in 2003 as a part of Ipecac Recorings’ short-lived Geek Show Tour. That show was an epic affair that boasted opening sets from label-mates The Melvins and Skeleton Key. Tomahawk promptly disappeared with the release of their 2007 album Anonymous following the departure (or firing as it were) of original bassist Kevin Rutmanis. Patton, Denison and drummer John Stanier completed Anonymous without a bassist and did not tour behind that record. Patton busied himself with his Peeping Tom project and the reunited Faith No More, Denison reunited with David Yow in The Jesus Lizard and Stanier soldiered on with his other band, Battles. A decade on, Tomahawk has recruited Trevor Dunn who most fans of the band are well familiar with given his role as bassist for Fantomas and Mr. Bungle. Back together and active, they played one of LA’s best venues, The Mayan, in support of their new album, Oddfellows. The results? More than enough to make you wish they hadn’t been gone ten years.
All photos by Marv Watson
Unlike the outstanding quality of The Melvins and Skeleton Key ten years back, this time the band’s only opener was San Diego noise rock outfit Retox. Diehard noise heads might remember this band’s singer Justin Pearson from a much better band he used to play with, The Locust. For those unfamiliar, The Locust was an extremely abrasive an often brilliant piece of discordant and chaotic noise. There’s no way to claim it was an easy pill to swallow, but the band knew how to make abrasive music at least thought provoking and impressive. Retox can’t even come close to that artful dissonance. Numerous time changes, pummeling drums, wall-to-wall distortion and endless screaming were pretty much the modus operandi here, each song blending into one another with little notion of pace or how to discern where the songs were. This one would only be for hardcore enthusiasts of this style. Anyone else would have trouble discerning just what was happening here.
Tomahawk, on the other hand, was a refreshing piece of bizarre brilliance. Each member of the group brings something truly unique to the table, forming a concoction that on paper should just not work, yet does effortlessly inspire eye-popping curiosity. Denison’s guitar work is a mix of obtuse 7th chords and unconventional scales played with a subtle twang. Stanier drums in syncopated segments, hinting at deeper influences in progressive electro and trance music. Patton alternates from country drawl, crooner coos and hard rock howls all while peppering in samples, tones and keyboards for spooky ambience. Dunn splits the difference with the jazzy overtones of his solo work and the sludgy approach his predecessor utilized. Somewhere in the midst of all that madness, everything coalesces into a menacing, playful, eerie and commanding re-imagining of the genres most conventionally labeled rock, alternative and Southern.
The group starts strong with a pair from their first album “God Hates a Coward” and “Flashback” both brimming over with cathartic choruses. “Oddfellows” colorfully meanders in a more subdued tempo, while “101 North” emerges as the group’s own epic “Riders on the Storm”-esque highway murder saga. The explosive energy returns on “Stone Letter” and things go full-board dirge for “Birdsong,” the most intimidating crescendo ever about feeding a bird. If you didn’t know the song, you might think it was about a final battle between good and evil. Mit Gas track “Captain Midnight” bookends one rock chorus amidst two delicate passages of drum-and-bass pitter-patter in a formula few would ever even think to try, much less wield effectively. New songs “White Hats/Black Hats” and “I.O.U.” aim more for moody, colorful backdrops. Implying more by their tone than any one word uttered. Similarly, “South Paw” drives and builds with melodies and patience alien even almost to this group, like the artful and nimble song craft of decades long past.
If that wasn’t enough to fully draw you in to their eclectic world, the last three songs of the set proper took the forward thinking to operatic heights. Self-titled album cut “Point and Click” wisely let the tempo be driven by the thudding bassline until the chorus where Patton wails like a siren, “I’ll be there / floating / above it all.” “Mayday” mutates between horror-movie creepy, straight-ahead rocking and a chorus which is both soaring defiance and call for help. And “Laredo” takes all of the previously mentioned elements and serves up a stew of pure, puzzling brilliance. Going from a countrified melodic intro to a pummeling refrain of, “The cat’s in the bag and the bag’s in the river” and ending on a decrescendo of noisy dissonance.
For the encore the band takes the opportunity the night’s one and only cut from the brilliant Anonymous, “Totem.” The only shame of the night considering the performance hints at what would’ve been possible with 20 minutes more in the set and three more of that album’s songs. The band ends on a pair of hilarious covers, a dead-on take on George Gones’ “Just One More” and Bad Brains’ “Pay to Cum.” Here’s to hoping that it’s not another ten years before the group is back around. This show is proof that Tomahawk is as strong and original as Faith No More or any of other Mike Patton’s most beloved projects.
God Hates a Coward
Rape This Day
Baby Let’s Play ____
White Hats / Black Hats
Point and Click
Just One More (George Jones cover)
Pay To Cum (Bad Brains cover)
All photos by Marv Watson