While I’m well aware of the fact that Tomahawk is much more than a side project for vocalist par excellence Mike Patton — guitarist Duane Denison is a vital creative force in the band — it was the chance to finally watch him perform live that brought me to the Best Buy Theater (née Nokia Theater) in Times Square last night. Also, I really wanted to see Tomahawk and this was one the band’s few U.S. tour dates in support of Oddfellows.

It’s a good thing I did, as the entire band put on a tight, blistering performance in front of a packed house. Patton and drummer John Stanier (Helmet, Battles) were the most outwardly intense, while Denison and new bassist Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle, Fantômas) let their instruments do the talking for the most part. Tomahawk has been on the road for the better part of the year and it shows. They were clearly focused on the task at hand, which was to melt the faces of anyone in their proximity with their unique brand of alternative metal.

Tomahawk live at Best Buy Theater, 6/2/2012
Blurry photo credit: Chris Holmes

Patton engaged the crowd with banter at times, but otherwise was all about the music. He still brings it vocally and is as adept at switching vocal styles live as he is on record. Patton alternated between crooning, screaming, and wordless vocal effects with seeming ease — all the while operating a bevy of computer-generated effects via some sort of station at center stage. The crowd at the Best Buy Theater fed off of his boundless energy throughout the show.

The setlist was spread evenly across three of the group’s four studio LPs — although only one song from the Native American-influenced Anonymous was performed — so that it’s hard to imagine any fan quibbling about their favorite getting overlooked. The biggest cheers, unsurprisingly, were reserved for tunes from the group’s self-titled debut album, such as “Flashback,” “101 North,” and “God Hates a Coward.” I would have loved to hear “Sir Yes Sir,” but apart from that all my favorites from the Tomahawk LP and Mit Gas were played.

The only thing I experienced last night that was more intense than Tomahawk was the near-Biblical thunderstorm I drove through on the way home. But it was a small price to pay to witness one of the most vital and entertaining bands working today. The group only has a few U.S. dates left before they head to Europe, so if you have the chance to catch them I cannot recommend them enough. Short of that, just buy the albums.

A final note — Brooklyn-based duo Buke and Gase opened the show and were quite good. They are very un-Tomahawk like but well worth hearing as well. Their latest album is called General Dome, and may just earn a spot on my 2013 year-end best of list.

Setlist

Mayday
Flashback
Oddfellows
101 North
Stone Letter
Birdsong
Rape This Day
Capt. Midnight
I.O.U.
White Hats / Black Hats
God Hates a Coward
South Paw
Point and Click
Rotgut
Laredo

Encore 1

Totem
Just One More (George Jones cover)

Encore 2

How Low Can a Punk Get? (Bad Brains cover)

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