Damon McMahon last played the Troubadour thirteen years ago with his brother as a part of the band Inouk. That is, until Thursday night when he brought Amen Dunes to the storied venue to start the tour for his 2018 Sacred Bones release, Freedom.
Comedian and LA mainstay Neil Hamburger opened the sold out show with a set of schticky, off-beat jokes strictly about musicians (“Why was it so hot on stage at the Grateful Dead show? Because none of their fans worked.”) It was an odd double bill, without a doubt, but it managed to keep the weekend-hungry attendees sufficiently entertained.
Although Amen Dunes have released five albums to date, their popularity in 2018 seems to far exceed the reach of their previous efforts. Freedom continues the group’s tapestry sound – one that is content not to stray outside four and six on the dial.
Both in studio and live, McMahon and company pick up a few paint brushes that they never really put down. It’s an exercise in consistency, if nothing else. All but one of the eleven new songs were played, with many taking their time to extend in to the meaty five to six-minute range.
With Damon McMahon dressed as his own man in black, front and center with a high and tight haircut, the performance began with the oldest song played during the set, 2011s “Bedroom Drum.” After a few Animal Collective vibes permeated through the room, new tune “Blue Rose” brought more of a hybrid of ’90s Brit pop played at the unhurried pace of The Velvet Underground.
McMahon’s vocals are traded in a non-syllabic currency; naturally distorted by choice. The end result are frequently unintelligible words that serve more as instrument than a communicator of lyrical poetry. During the intro of new jam, “Skipping School,” McMahon even asked for his own vocals to be turned down – which meant you almost couldn’t hear the gem, “Daddy was the coolest kid in school, he was always in the alley sniffing glue.”
The rest of Amen Dunes (Parker Kindred, Jordi Wheeler and two touring members) are a democratic bunch. There is little done to move the needle; they are sort of a no spotlight band, each an equal part of the whole.
The dreamy whirrs in “Lonely Richard” brought things down to that low end of four, but then “LA” kicked it back up to six with a pinch of swagger. The song eventually retreated in to an ethereal soundscape, a harbinger of the next song’s spaced out slow lurch (“Saturdarah”).
“Freedom” and “Believe” were affirmational in both spirit and sound (“Yeah, life goes on, and this is just a song, but still I do it for you”). Shimmery guitars flirted with opening things up, and McMahon sneered some in “Believe,” but altogether the quintet remained loyal to the palette.
In the encore, Amen Dunes gave a nod to local surf hero with their song “Miki Dora.” McMahon’s hand gestures, an apex of the band member’s physical activity, were mimed over the tune’s circular riff, and excellent keys and bass interplay. But the tune, a microcosm of the entire show, stayed true to laid back, understated California surf vibes.
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