TOMAHAWK, DJ SWAMP
Graceland, $15 9 p.m. Sat., Dec. 1
ZIPPY WOW, we have another supergroup coming to town. The name? Tomahawk. The game? Who knows. Let's meet the players!
Since hijacking the spotlight from Faith No More and using that attention to focus the dead gaze of the public on much better, much more interesting things, Mike Patton's been a wandering man. Anyone who witnessed Fant�' first gig at RCKNDY—complete with 150 kids scratching their heads at an hour and a half of 30-second nonlinear blasts registering somewhere between Naked City and Loony Toons—could see Patton's evil genius. The man writhed behind a wall of effects, twisting knobs like he was landing the space shuttle, finishing one song and announcing, rather annoyed, "We totally fucked that one up, so we're going to do it again." He eyed his two guitar-bearing Melvins and his one Slayer drummer with pure malice, "and we're going to do it right this time."
Heaping loads of butt-kissing on Patton is no new thing—he's been a hoppy little press bunny for a while, but for good reason. No one else goes from death metal to doo-wop on a shiny dime, nailing each one perfectly. He's even doing some electronic felching with Dan the Automator under the moniker Peeping Tom. What a guy!
And in this corner, weighing in at a respectable 165 pounds (probably), is Duane Denison, former guitar flavor coordinator for the mighty Jesus Lizard and current provider of robotic Wild West style for Hank Williams III. When it comes to laying it out, Mr. Denison ain't no slouch neither. He remains one of the few guitar players to emerge from the '90s post-punk scene with a trademark guitar sound recognizable at first listen. Tense and tight, his fingers roll around the open strings, filling crucial space and playing every base, creating melody, texture, and tension—and when that fat lady's ready to start hollerin', he lets loose with the best of them.
Then there's these two other guys, the rhythm and the bass. John Stanier powered Helmet through some good 'n' heavy songs and Interscope's million dollar bet that Helmet would be the next Nirvana. We all know that Helmet went on to become the adult contemporary Unsane with less cool album covers—still, those old records continue to sound pretty damn good. Rounding out the ensemble is Kevin Rutmanis of the Cows—and if anyone ever says anything bad about the Cows, I'll sock them in the jaw.
SO, ONE MINUTE Patton and Denison are smooching up each other's butts at a Hank Williams III show in Nashville (where Denison resides), and now they're on tour together, expecting us music hacks to give them the unabashed thumbs-up and ensure that you idiots lap it all up like a bunch of caged Pomeranians. But they don't get a free pass around here. Do these great flavors come together for a meal of pornographic Tomahawk proportions? What's the final verdict?
As Denison and Patton attempt to blend their styles, Tomahawk can seem a big white glass of half-and-half with a float of discarded crankcase oil on the top—sometimes meshing like steak fat on a manifold, sometimes clashing like gasoline in a parking lot puddle. The album contains a certain schizophrenic sense of "this is my part of the song, and this is your part of the song," and Patton has wrassled much of the tug-of-war his way. To be fair, he certainly plays well with others on the distortion-heavy Jesus Lizard-sounding parts, better than Denison does on the 70 percent of the album that sounds like Patton on Broadway. The guitar on much of that could be played by anyone. A few tunes bear out the unholy union beautifully, "Jockstrap" particularly standing as the strongest example of what evil can do if properly applied.
Whether this two-facedness is because most of the Tomahawk songs were conceived and built using the U.S. Postal Service as middleman or because Patton is an insurmountable tsunami of creative violence is unsure. What can be determined is that Tomahawk's debut release is accessible and deceptively simple. Tomahawk demonstrates Patton's mastery of the stop-and-start-10-million-different-parts-in-30-seconds formula, and if you liked the last Bungle record, you'll eat this shit up like PEZ. So go see them. It's OK.