On the final tour supporting the critically acclaimed album Freedom, Amen Dunes performed at the Belly Up with a commanding energy and confidence that hinted greatness is close at hand.
Occasionally, an album defines a year in the indie music world. With Arcade Fire’s Funeral (2004) and Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest (2009), the blogs were buzzing and the excitement of a band realizing their potential and major break-through album was palpable. The same energy can be said for the new Amen Dunes album, Freedom, released last year to much fanfare. The album isn’t instrumentally virtuous, but what the album does between the lines (think slick, shimmering, and transcendent melodies) and what band leader Damon McMahon does with his striking voice is transcendent.
Spellling opened the night with dark, mysterious tones that entranced those who dared to listen in. Some songs were left bare with light flourishes of drums and the haunting voice, and others featured singular synth melodies and bass rattles that shook rib cages. Her unique approach to soul and pop was bolstered by a hypnotic dance synchronized with her percussionist’s driving rhythms.
It’s been well over four years since Amen Dunes has last visited San Diego. Since that time, the band has developed a densely layered sound, which permeated the cavernous Belly Up as the band stepped onto the stage amid a deep droning intro rumbling like a storm cloud.
Amen Dunes commanded the eager crowd’s attention throughout the night, basing most of the setlist from tracks off the aforementioned Freedom. Although Amen Dunes is the project of Damon McMahon, his four other band mates work as linchpins, giving the album a dense and complete sound. Most of the band swayed in their respective places, but Damon took to dancing about the stage front and center.
One of the most stunning moments of the night came as a cover of Tim Buckley’s “Song to the Siren.” The pleadings, fluctuations, and flutters of McMahon’s voice silenced the entire room as the guitar floated effortlessly the empty spaces of the song. Finishing with “Miki Dora,” the slow-burning track couldn’t have paired better with the vibe of the room, feeling like surfing together on a 1960’s sunset wave on Malibu beach, enjoying the endless ride.