Concert review: Amen Dunes at The Mothlight
If Damon McMahon ever wants to pursue a career as a rapper, he’d probably be wildly successful.
Though listeners of his decidedly non hip-hop music would likely scoff at the idea, there were numerous instances at The Mothlight on Saturday, Jan. 26, when the Amen Dunes frontman discarded his guitar, shaker, or tambourine, grabbed the mic, and seemed primed to bust out a few choice bars.
McMahon’s energetic, commanding stage presence paired well with his distinct quasi-warbly vocals as he and his four-piece backing ensemble worked through a set that, though clocking in at a surprisingly short 60some minutes, reiterated that it’s better to have a show be brief and top-notch than overlong and wanting it to end.
Other than such exceptions as “Lonely Richard,” the standout from 2014’s Love, and a track from the first Amen Dunes album that McMahon claimed the band had only performed live one other time, the group stuck to his up-tempo 2018 album Freedom, which landed well-earned spots on a high number of music writers’ Best Of lists.
If the entire album wasn’t played, at most one track was M.I.A., and multiple times McMahon showed why he’s one of indie rock’s best at building songs. As he wove gradually more intricate sonic complexities, from pulsing bass to rattling snares, one could feel the sold out room’s energy swell and unite in a few complete crowd-ownership moments, including the second, guitar-aided half of “Calling Paul The Suffering” and reaching the gradual, ecstatic crescendo of “Miki Dora.”
The lone downside of this rich, layered, yet accessible (read: no earplugs necessary) wall of sound — a hallmark of The Mothlight experience — is that the bulk of McMahon’s lyrics were lost in the system’s mix, but interpreting his voice as primarily an instrument instead of a content delivery device lessened the sting.
That all of the above was offered in such intimate quarters when Amen Dunes easily could have gone to a larger venue is both a testament to the listening room’s all-around revered reputation and McMahon’s appreciation for a space and crowd that brings out the best in him.
(Photo by Michael Schmelling)