Amen Dunes Preach To the Biltmore Choir

Photo credit: Tuomas Kopijaakko
Photo credit: Tuomas Kopijaakko

Amen Dunes, the psych-folk three-piece with a name like a Nevada church group, played the Biltmore on a hot Wednesday night – 26 degrees, the closest Vancouver will get to a desert-esque. It was a quiet night and a quiet crowd, newcomers slipping in to the strains of opening two-piece Steve Jr., who revealed it was their first time in Vancouver. We cheered politely, as Vancouverites do. Steve Jr. was well-received – they were able to create a rounded sound with their two instruments and gave off Soundgarden vibes that even elicited some head-banging from the front row. Well, one or two head-bangs.

It’s interesting comparing the physical power of a mosh pit/punk show to the different kind of power that bands like Amen Dunes have: there’s a lot of command in restraint, in holding a crowd spellbound and quiet, and this is an area in which Amen Dunes excel. They have a cavernous sound, like a lone seer warbling in dry land of days past – it might not make you bounce, but sure makes you shiver.

What’s best? Frontman Damon McMahon’s voice sounds just as lovely as it does on record. His voice is key component #1 of Amen Dunes, angelic yet austere – which I suppose fits in well with the preacher theme, too. Their set list was comprised of a lot from their latest album, Love (Sacred Bones, 2013), including highlights like “Lonely Richard” – a bit more accessible and melodic than some of their earlier work.

Amen Dunes’ set was relatively short  (over by midnight), and vibes were kept decidedly chill. The only moment of discord occured when some drunk guy shouted something about killing (killing what, I’m not sure), and McMahon offered a soft reprimand: “That’s not very positive.” No need to tell the rest of us; the crowd was already shuffling away from this rogue. I was a little bummed that not very much many of Amen Dunes’ Ethio Covers were played, as they were what initially piqued my interest in the band, and they feel a bit rawer than some of Love‘s offerings. Nonetheless, the sound was great – full, quaking peaks of reverb, keyboard, and jangling guitars that couldn’t disappoint.

“I love Canada; it’s the best,” announced McMahon near the end of the show, smiling sincerely. It was clear the crowd loved him, too. This is all starting to sound a bit like a cult in the basement, but don’t doubt the sincerity of psych-folk fans. People left happily, shuffling out in order and chatting quietly, the product of a most soothing Wednesday night sermon.