Friday night was Damon McMahon’s first time in Salt Lake City. In 2006, after a brief run with NYC band Inouk and a sabbatical in China, Damon emerged under the monicker Amen Dunes. Over a decade later (earlier this year), McMahon dropped Freedom, an album that many have already deemed the best album of 2018 (so far). Damon has spent the majority of his Amen Dunes career on the fringes of the indie music realm— partially on purpose, due in part to his aversion to attention and partially due to his music’s difficulty to classify—but Freedom did a lot to pull him in to the spotlight. “When you’re touring, you tend to go to the same places,” McMahon waxed onstage about his decade-plus history as a touring musician. “It’s refreshing to be somewhere new.”
McMahon let that sentiment hang in the air for a bit before easing into another song from Freedom. It’s easy to understand, after listening to McMahon’s eclectic catalog and sitting for his live performance, that the sentiment is more personal to him than just something uttered at a show. His performance on Aug. 17, though heavy on new material, included a handful of tracks from past albums Love and Through Donkey Jaw; songs that felt like they were cut from a different cloth than those on his new record, yet still quite “Amen Dunes”–y. The set was a nonlinear journey, passing through swaths of new material with a deep cut mixed in every now and then to remind of the slow metamorphosis McMahon (like most people, honestly) has been experiencing since the conception of Amen Dunes back in 2006.
The most striking aspect of the set, though, was its simplicity. Guitar, bass, drums, some piano or synth—depending on the track—performed totally live (no tracks, no loops) under a monochromatic wash of light. It’s not a new approach to live performance, but it was genuine and it was, most certainly, refreshing.