Show Review: Amen Dunes at Monarch 28/11/14

sbr113-amen-dunes-love_df3a4200-d444-49ac-be5d-0e4df18f7a89It’s been six months since Damon McMahon last brought his solo project, Amen Dunes, to Berlin. Then, too, it was a transitional time—the changing of the seasons, flushes of green beginning to tinge the streets. On this side of the summer, his music takes on a somewhat darker hue, the trees stripped back to their winter bare, the sky a pallid grey, belching with nothingness. “Love,” the record that Amen Dunes released earlier in the year, shifts from music for sunny fields to a sultry red-wine-and-candle soundtrack.

The show took place at Kottbusser Tor’s Monarch, a heady upstairs den embellished by the rumbling past of the U1, the windows rubbed with fog. The audience was informed that it was the second-to-last show of eight months of touring, the night thus taking on both a celebratory and deep-breathing, winding-down hue. “Bedroom Drum,” the second track of the set, was the first highlight of the evening, swaying and belching like the innards of a ship, releasing sprays of howling foam between just-droning guitar. McMahon’s face contorted and twisted like the crest of a wave, the second guitarist becoming the smooth tide, a shag of hair swaying, eyes cast adrift, vaguely glazed as he shifted side to side like a kelp forest, fingers brushing across the strings with a removed stare.

“I Know Myself” wrung chests to a gentle clutching, an inter-tangling of nostalgia and joy tucked safely away from the blustery evening streets. Between these moments of surged current the set ebbed back and forth, receding into quiet and delicate lulls—the musicianship was always spot-on, however, the performance rimmed with a generous and bubbling-over forward energy. “We don’t usually play this one live,” announced McMahon at one point, “but for some reason we feel like playing it for you tonight.” The track was “White Child,” the opening sequence of “Love”: a rollicking, rambling journey across country plains wrapped up in a soaring sun-split harmony.

The early curfew approached steadily, the impending close met with reluctance from both sides. An encore, however, was a demanded necessity. Upon returning to the stage, the swooning “Splits Are Parted” cracked gently across heads like a yolk, but as McMahon broke into song, the sound system took a swoop of its own. The song was given a second attempt, the frustration eventually melting from McMahon’s forehead as he tore through, unleashing an impressive rendition of one of the most magical, spine-tingling tracks to have found airwaves this year. The second helping stretched out to two tracks, more than enough to patch over memory of the failing sound system. By the time the musicians filtered back into the crowd, cheeks were awash with the flushed glow of cockles wonderfully warmed—a moving performance from Amen Dunes, who will be missed until the band’s season next whirls around.

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