Amen Dunes, O2 Academy, Leeds, 26th Feb
Assembled in the mellow purple cavern of the O2 Academy, Amen Dunes were largely well received by an inquisitive crowd, despite the turnout being largely for The War on Drugs. The trio of weathered New Yorkers began the night with an understated, low key set, not grabbing attention but not trying to, either. The band came across as veterans of the gigging circuit, greeting the audience not with the exuberant excitement of younger groups but with an earthy, modest tactility.
Starting off as Damon McMahon’s solo project in 2006 and eventually opening up as a collaborative including Jordi Wheeler on guitar/piano and Parker Kindred on drums, Amen Dunes is a product of evolution, yet still carries resonances of its formation. The decreased individuality from Amen Dunes’ roots hasn’t affected the fullness of the raw emotion in their music, though; and the haunting voice of McMahon equipped with wandering lyrics still creates the original loner vibe. Good chemistry between the band-members produced a chilled sound, the audience rocking back and forth as the three piece explored emotional territory in a charismatic NY twang. ‘Lonely Richard’, a hit from the 2014 album Love, was an especially good listen, as well as some appealing new tracks with a slightly more stripped back, experimental feel – ‘Song to the Siren’ is a favourite.
The set was ideal as a relaxed opening into the heavier The War on Drugs. However the misty, mellow sound at times felt a little too introspective, struggling to engage totally with the audience when live. Watching their live appearance was definitely a different experience from listening at home, where the hazy feel of the music can normally draw a listener into its dreamy world.
The tone and texture of Amen Dunes’ music really requires total immersion to be fully appreciated. However, this sense of captivation just failed to fully form in the O2, as the crowd were slightly disengaged, a flow of movement remaining around the room and at the bars. Unfortunately the cavernous venue, early start and relatively short set worked against the band, undermining their stage presence. There was a distance between performers and audience that was never fully addressed as the trio rocked out in their private world.
Overall though, Amen Dunes performed well, playing out lots of new material from their 2015 album Cowboy Worship, which is definitely worth a listen. This band would do well in a more intimate venue as they have lots to offer to the impartial listener and could definitely garner new fans with their attractive sound. The high ceilinged, chamber-like space and the difficulty of contending with the established popularity of The War on Drugs detracted from the music itself, which was a shame. Still, ones to watch out for as their discography continues to grow.
Maddy Crammond and Georgia Marshall