“We’ve been playing these songs for a while now, and every night they sound different” Damon McMahon, also known as Amen Dunes, announced halfway through his Prince Albert show. “I don’t know why, but these songs are sounding particularly dark tonight… I like it” he continued with a smile on his face and, in many ways, that’s the perfect description of Amen Dunes’ live show. Inside the incredibly dark confines of one of Brighton’s smallest and gloomiest venues, this was an incredibly atmospheric, hazy and near silent gig where the audience were almost hypnotised by the beautiful, melancholic folk, psych and indie amalgamation of Amen Dunes and his latest album, Freedom, which has themes of grief and family loss running through its weeping veins.
Support on the night came from Eddie the Wheel, who appear to be making a comeback since releasing their last EP back in 2011. Fronted by Eddie Whelan, the band kept talk to a minimum to play as many songs as possible which, it has to be said, was an impressive amount of Americana indie-style bangers. ‘Leave Behind’, in particular, is a track with an incredibly captivating opening drum pattern, enveloped with brooding, ruminating guitar lines and a low-key synthesizer to ground the piece in indie-pop. Eddie the Wheel are a band that seem like a throwback but, crucially, with enough modernity to keep their sound fresh.
By the time Amen Dunes wormed their way through the crowd, there really wasn’t any room for maneuver. Opening with a one-two of older album tracks,‘Bedroom Drum’ from 2011’s Through Donkey Jaw and ‘Lonely Richard’ from 2014’s Love, it was a beautiful start that instantly exhibited the vulnerability in McMahon’s voice and the tenderness of his lyricism. From this moment onwards, it was pretty much the perfect set.
The first taste of Freedom came from arguably its biggest single, ‘Blue Rose’, which is a prismatic scene-setter that introduced the album to perfection, but also established its terribly sad themes of grief. There are a few moments throughout the night that are truly breathtaking. One such moment comes from Freedom track ‘Skipping School’, which continued Amen Dunes’ stunning exercises in tension and release, so much so that at many times throughout the night it feels like the whole audience is holding their breath in unison. ‘Skipping School’ cracked the tension with a low, echoing breakthrough of sumptuous keyboard and beautiful guitar licks.
After playing Freedom album track, ‘Satudarah’, McMahon explained that it was, “Very indebted to Lee Mavers of The La’s” and then, suddenly, Amen Dunes’ sound seemed to make sense. Like a mixture of the baggy northwest of the 80s and early 90s mixed with the modern, and increasingly popular, melancholic folk (think Aldous Harding’s Party for a reference point), the end result is an accessible sense of anguish that is truly captivating.
Finally, came a rarity from a venue without a ‘proper’ backstage area: an encore. The band made their way back through the tightly packed venue to perform one final song, much to the pleasure of everyone in the venue. Final track ‘Miki Dora’ capped off what was a truly special night; a gig that felt unique, introspective and deeply, deeply personal. At the start of their gig, McMahon suggested that “He’d really started to love Brighton”. After this showcase, let’s hope he’s back in no time at all.