Some great music just doesn’t translate in a festival setting, and I’d put Amen Dunes’ work in that category. The experimental indie rock act is the solo project of Damon McMahon, and his insular, reflective music is perfect for lying in bed and thinking about life and crying maybe (probably), but McMahon and his band’s 1 p.m. ACL Fest set felt like absolutely the wrong place and time for what McMahon does.
Performing with a backing band at all is not something I’m sure adds value to the live show. The downtempo, emotional songs demanded little instrumental work that absolutely needed to happen live, and I think the set would have landed better -- felt more intimate and powerful -- if it was just McMahon and maybe a keyboardist or synth player onstage. The band members, including surfy, psych-rock artist Delicate Steve on guitar, were all incredibly talented, but they just didn’t have much to do.
Also, McMahon’s haunting, emotive voice and his lyricism are what really make Amen Dunes stand out when listening to recordings, but at the Miller Lite stage, it was difficult to make out any of the words he was crooning, dampening the emotional impact.
The set intrigued me, though, and managed to communicate some of Amen Dunes’ themes and moods, melancholy and wonder and strain. I’m just excited to go listen to some of McMahon’s records all by myself in a quiet room, instead of in a mushy, sweaty field.