Review – Amen Dunes at the Biltmore Cabaret July 9 2014
– review by Thalia Stopa
“Grandparent-appropriate” is not how I would describe opening band Steve Jr. Had my own grandmother been in attendance for theÂ Montreal duo’sÂ first Vancouver performance, sheÂ would haveÂ turnedÂ off her hearing aids.
CorbinÂ Ordel‘sÂ grandpa, who was in attendance according to the vocalist/guitarist, opted for industrial earphonesÂ to soften the relentless psych-rock blows. Steve Jr.’sÂ other half,Â GlebÂ Wilson,Â had no mercy for the sensitive eardrums present, or for his own drums. With his head down, he plowed through a mostly instrumental set.Â Ordel’sÂ vocals were the least impactful elementÂ except forÂ one song where they escalated into a vicious yell that tore through the monotonous lyrics. Constantly giving each other cues, the pair sounded alternately improvisational and choreographed cage match.Â JockishÂ and muscularÂ OrdelÂ clearly had brawn on his side, whereas Wilson had speed and endurance.
Wilson endured another set, to provideÂ theÂ occasionalÂ backing beats for New YorkersÂ Amen Dunes.Â After the 19-hour drive up from San Francisco, singer/guitarist (and founding member)Â DamonÂ McMahon declared that he was “happy to not be in a moving vehicle” any longer. With their shredded black jeans and unkempt frizzy hair, McMahon and guitarist/keyboardistÂ Jordi WheelerÂ were the portraitÂ ofÂ a touring rock band.Â On tour in support of June’sÂ LoveÂ LP release, on Sacred Bones Records, theyÂ played a mellow setÂ devoted toÂ their new materialÂ at the Biltmore this past. The mostly young and female audience was small but fawning.
The musicÂ meandered and soared with anÂ underlyingÂ intensity and melancholyÂ reminiscent ofÂ fellow psych-folk rockerÂ ChadÂ Vangaalen.Â Less quirky or morbid thanÂ Vangaalen, McMahon’sÂ voice shone and occasionally quiveredÂ with reverb like heat radiating off of sun-soaked skin. His own acoustic strummingÂ was accompanied by Wheeler’s shimmering electric guitarÂ for all except for the first and last song, including confessional “I Know Myself.”
Having not heard anything off of their new album prior to the show, I anticipated more drone andÂ psychedeliaÂ and less listenability from the night’s performance.Â Love is an intentional departure from Amen Dunes’ past experimental approach; had McMahonÂ reverted to hisÂ previous improvisational attitude, the performance would likely have felt far too disjointed.Â ExceptÂ for several disruptive momentsÂ toÂ adjust the questionable sound, the venue’s moodÂ had the apt romantic air of aÂ summer twilight setting.
In the past, I have relied on record labelÂ Sacred Bones forÂ innovative and prolific artists (such asÂ Zola JesusÂ and recently reviewedÂ The Men).Â Like a mirage, Amen Dunes gave the impression of a musical oasis, but never seem to entirely realize or fulfill their promise, much like the love that their album is titled after.