The Five Songs Amen Dunes Played At The Anthem In DC

Amen Dunes Processed

Touring as the opening act is a bitch, even if it offers a young band exposure.  We’re not sure when or even if Amen Dunes had played D.C. before, but we weren’t going to miss them, even if it meant seeing only a 30-minute set.  After all, Freedom, which came out at the end of March may just be 2018’s best record, and Love, which came out in 2014 ranks high among the best recs of the decade.  So we went to see them at The Anthem.  Let’s view this band, as we did last night, through the prism of the five songs they were allowed to play.

Bedroom Drum, the opening song, was released on 2011’s Through Donkey Jaw and it gives a good preview of the kind of gauzy dream pop Damon McMahon was gearing up to make. Parker Kindred’s drums last night (we assume that’s who was drumming) weren’t muffled, as the drums were on that eight-year old album, and Delicate Steve and McMahon’s strumming invoked Galaxie 500.  It was good to hear McMahon’s voice in the wild, that unique quaver sounding strong after five weeks on the road.  Preserved of course because as the opener you only get 30 minutes to play.

Amen Dunes Processed-2

Blue Rose is one of the highlights of Freedom, a real departure for Amen Dunes after Love.  If the prior album was a gorgeous freak folk outing, a mostly acoustic psychedelic tour de force, “Blue Rose” sounds like it could have been an outtake from David Bowie’s Young Americans, blue-eyed soul from Philadelphia.  McMahon dropped the guitar and just sang, his dance moves about the equivalent of Bowie’s, but his voice gorgeous, as the song is.

L.A. closes out Freedom, and it’s really two songs, a pretty folk song coupled with a less melodic extended meditation.  Live it was truly compelling and we could see what a great band this foursome is, or would be if allowed to stretch out and play a full set.  McMahon is an incredibly compelling singer, and his delicate, sinuous songs get under your skin.

Splits Are Parted was a pleasant surprise, with McMahon introducing this highlight from Love as an offering from that album on the anniversary of its 2014 release.  If you want to understand what all the fuss is about, why someone would shell out the big bucks to scalp a ticket to see this band open for another band, start here.  His voice warbled a bit like Devendra Banhart, an obvious influence on Love.  While Delicate Steve’s guitar work last night didn’t quite bring to the fore that oddly charming counter riff, this was the highlight of the evening.

Believe is perhaps the most conventional rock song of McMahon’s career — the song on Freedom that got us to understand just how grand are his ambitions — and as a closer it showed how close he is to producing music that might actually bring him a mass audience.  It is a beautifully melodic song, and on this one, the combination of Kindred’s drumming and Steve’s lead guitar was utterly enchanting.

And that was it.  No “Miki Dora,” Amen Dunes’ astonishing invocation of the ’60s surf legend, which builds like a wave before crashing to the shore.  They played it Thursday night in Pittsburgh, according to Setlist.com, but not last night in D.C. And that, we’ll admit, was a disappointment.  But like we said, touring as an opening act is a bitch.

Oh yeah, Fleet Foxes also played.

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