At a little past eight o’clock and with this atmospheric Grade II listed building just starting to fill up, Amen Dunes take to the O2 Academy stage. The musical project of Damon McMahon for the best part of the last decade, the New England songwriter is tonight joined by two cohorts on keys and drums. Together they weave a delicate, woozy pattern of narcoleptic bliss as they trace a path through Amen Dunes’ past, present and future pages. ‘Lilac In Hand’ from last year’s “breakthrough” album Love captures all that is great about McMahon. He has a wonderfully understated ability to harness the qualities of redemption and reverence to a gorgeous melody and he makes it all seem so effortless across the trajectory of a beautifully weighted eight song set before he gently presses the Amen Dunes accelerator for an uplifting, and concluding blast of ‘Rocket Flare’.
After a quite incredible past twelve months that saw their third album ‘Lost In The Dream’ receive an almost universal acclaim that propelled it right to the very top of almost every end-of-the-year best of lists and the Philadelphian six-piece taking to the main stage at Glastonbury festival, The War on Drugs star shows no absolutely sign of waning. A further measure of their meteoric rise is illustrated by the fact that the last time they played Leeds nearly four years ago they were at the much smaller Brudenell Social Club. Tonight they have sold out this 2,300 capacity venue.
The War on Drugs perform ‘Lost In The Dream’ almost in its entirety this evening. For all that these songs are still driven by a resolute beat, over which frontman and principal songwriter Adam Granduciel is given the freedom to paint his glorious, lavish guitar strokes, when they are performed in concert the battered studio anguish, isolation and melancholy of their studio incarnations is replaced by a triumphal euphoria that appears to reflect Granduciel’s personal liberation from all of those past emotional ties that bound.
‘Under The Pressure’ ignites the set with its relentless motorik rhythm and the total immersion of Granduciel’s dreamy, delayed guitar. Three songs later ‘Burning’ continues that exhilarating journey down the open highway, conjuring up further memories of the classic late 70’s rock of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band. A truly magnificent ‘An Ocean Between The Waves’ configures similar feelings of nostalgia that equally co-exist with something that is firmly located in the present.
Two hours and sixteen songs gives The War On Drugs ample scope to also revisit earlier glories; ‘Arms Like Boulders’ – from the band’s 2008 debut Wagonwheel Blues – is every bit as strong as its title suggests and a mesmerising ‘Baby Missiles’ plus the awesome power of ‘Come To The City’ – which closes the set proper – are drawn from its follow-up Slave Ambient. There is even time to cover Bill Fay’s ‘I Hear You Calling’ –taken from the English songwriter’s 1971 lost classic Time of the Last Persecution – in an incredible five song encore that is a perfect demonstration of how best to measure gathering pace and momentum when performing live music.
More pictures of Amen Dunes from this evening can be found here
And more pictures of The War on Drugs are here
The UK tour continues:
27th February: Newcastle – O2 Academy
28th February: Edinburgh – Usher Hall
1st March: Nottingham – Rock City
2nd March: London – O2 Academy, Brixton