On Halloween weekend at New Orleans’ VooDoo Fest 2012, alt-rock supergroup Tomahawk played their second show in almost a decade, in support of its newest album, Oddfellows (Ipecac). As he had at so many shows with his cyclonic band the Jesus Lizard, Tomahawk guitarist Duane Denison opened this Halloween concert with dark, muted chords. “God Hates a Coward,” from Tomahawk’s 2001 self-titled debut, cracked open as Denison’s band (Helmet/Battles drummer John Stanier, Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn and singer/screamer/sound-effects stuntman Mike Patton) charged in behind him.
Duane Denison has lent his subtly tricky playing to Hank III, Firewater, Silver Jews and Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers, among others. His music avoids rock-n-roll’s pervasive Blues licks, combining his scholarly knowledge of classical guitar with touches of flamenco, even reggae, to form a style many have called “jazz punk.” Combing lead and rhythm guitar in unique ways, Dennison prefers a minimalist approach. Some of his fanciest playing is muted, like some evil Andy Summers. His approach to Tomahawk differs only slightly.
Tomahawk is, technically, Denison’s band. He sketched out each of the band’s three albums, includingOddfellows, at home on guitar and drum machine, before emailing MP3s to his long-distance bandmates. Writing for Mike Patton’s wild yet golden pipes has made Denison, always a tasteful player, even more enamored of space. “You don’t have to hit people over the head,” he says on Tomahawk’s tour bus before the VooDoo show. “It’s nice to kind of step back and let the vocals take over. If you have a guitar sound like mine that tends to be fairly bright and trill, ear fatigue sets in pretty quick, and unless you’re a super fan of that kind of thing, you’re gonna tune out after a while.”
Like other of the musicians incubated in the 90s Chicago scene built around Touch N Go Records and producer Steve Albini, Denison is known also for his interesting gear.
And here is a brief video I made on Tomahawk’s tour bus: