Tomahawk at the 9:30 Club

Alternative metal supergroup Tomahawk perform at the 9:30 Club in DC. Photo: Tomahawk

WASHINGTON, July 15, 2013 — Attempting to describe Tomahawk is like trying to piece together a graph that details their members’ various extracurricular projects. Prior to their current effort, each member of Tomahawk has already had extensive experience with other bands.

Their collective musical travels involved bands that include Jesus Lizard, Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Melvins, and Helmet. Each of these ensembles have tried and true followers, many of whom have attended their performances at the 9:30 Club. Forming a perfect circle, these fans, in turn, influence Tomahawk’s music as well.

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The band’s front man, Mike Patton, is an incredibly huge figure in current musical circles. As a veteran of both highly respected and off-the-wall music acts, Patton walks the line, highly esteemed as a creative force both original and esoteric enough not alienate either fans or critics. This, in turn, inevitably causes people to be drawn to him as the front man and focus of Tomahawk.

That said, though, when listening to Tomahawk during their recent performance here, it is quite clear that the foundation of the band lies strongly with guitarist Duane Denison.

The band’s overall nature – and this is especially true on their latest album Oddfellows – gravitates more toward a hard guitar sound that takes a lot of its cues from ‘90s alternative rock. Granted, there are still signs of ambient weirdness around this band’s edges. But Tomahawk is pushing something a bit more familiar. So there is a valid reason why, leading up to this tour, Mike Patton insisted that Duane Denison was the one to mount the full court press, transforming him into the main force behind Tomahawk’s current direction.

Still, that does not stop the audience from having certain expectations pinned on their general devotion to the persona of Mike Patton. Throughout his career, Patton has been known for musical strangeness, and, on some level, genuine musical insanity. When his fans attend one of his shows, naturally this is what they expect, and Patton tends to deliver.

The weirdest thing about Tomahawk, though, is that they are really not that kind of band. In general, they actually lack any sort of insanity in their live show here, which, for the most part, was a straightforward affair.

Their songs are engaging and Patton’s vocals cover a wide array of tonal approaches, which are even more impressive in a live performance than they are on any of his recordings. People, for the most part, expect an insane live set from Tomahawk for no other reason than the fact that Mike Patton is fronting them.

By the end of Tomahawk’s set, it is pretty clear that this band can generate a great, guitar-driven live rock set without any of the craziness that Patton’s own fans may or may not have been expecting. This “anything can happen” approach is electric, adding a tension and a dimension to their sound that most other bands cannot achieve.

It says a lot about a band that goes through their set like a disciplined routine while focusing on the strength of their songs. Their approach turns each Tomahawk show into an audience pleasing event.

The band deserves this kind of attention because, beyond the exterior impression their members provide, all of them constitute a unified, thoughtful band that never stops improving.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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