Review: Amen Dunes Casts a Spell at Lincoln Hall

"It feels like we're all waiting to go into a haunted house," observed a fellow concert goer. Brooding synths echoed in a darkened Lincoln Hall as we waited for Amen Dunes to take the stage. The spookiness dissipated with the opening guitar strains and "Na na nas" of "Freedom," but the atmospheric psych-rock performance proved to be haunting. Damon McMahon and his five-piece touring band were in town supporting Freedom, the fifth album from Amen Dunes. The album is the result of three years of craftsmanship born of false starts, a jettisoned first version, and trusted collaborators. The New York-based artist recorded most of the work at the renowned Electric Lady Studios with contributions by Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Delicate Steve, and Panoram. Although it took the first few songs to get the mixing dialed in, it wasn't long before the band cloaked the crowd in hazy, indie folk introspection. The set centered on songs from Freedom, an album whose themes include childhood memories, grief, and troubled masculinity. McMahon’s crooning renders the lyrics mostly indiscernible. Swirling through the room, they are felt rather than heard. His distinctive vocal intonations recall King Krule, Win Butler, and even Mick Jagger with the American rock reverence of Adam Granduciel. Amen Dunes' melancholy spell did offer plenty of danceable moments. Attendees swayed to the groovy beat of "Blue Rose" and shimmied to the upbeat skipping of guitar and drums on "Calling Paul the Suffering." McMahon felt it too. "I was out of it when I got up here, but I've started really enjoying myself," he said. The set swelled to a powerful finale with "Believe," a tribute to McMahon’s mother who was diagnosed with terminal cancer while Freedom was being recorded. The encore delivered only "Miki Dora," an album standout that rode out the show on plucky guitar waves. It was an abrupt ending to a performance that lasted under an hour. Amen Dunes' spell was broken when it was just getting underway, but maybe that's part of the magic. All photos by Jessica Mlinaric
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Jessica Mlinaric

Jessica Mlinaric is a writer, photographer and cat mom. Her first book on the strange and secret corners of Chicago is forthcoming from Reedy Press. Jessica founded in 2010 to share stories about cities and their cultures. Right now, she is probably at a concert or volunteering at 826CHI. She tweets at @urbnexplorer.