Brighton Music Hall – 2/10/14

San Fermin is not just a band — it’s a story whose characters speak in music. Ellis Ludwig-Leone, the 23-year-old writer of this acclaimed story, composed the indie album in the peaceful, rocky mountains of Alberta, Canada. His work follows the recent trend of mixing the electronic with the organic—sounds from synthesizers and electric guitars with those of horns and stringed instruments. The result is what some have recently coined “baroque pop.

Leone is not the only composer to write some form of pop music. At Yale, he worked with Nico Muhly, a composer known for arranging grand symphonies one day and working with Grizzly Bear or with Usher the next. Leone moved from concert halls to rock clubs, places now home to the kind of artistic expression once privy to the world of classical music.

A total of twenty-two musicians performed on the recorded version of San Fermin’s album — eight took the story to the stage. Brighton Music Hall is a special place for the show — it was the first venue the band ever played at, a mid-sized intimate venue, perfect for the kind of story-telling that went on that night.

The story is hazy. It follows a strained relationship between two sensitive people, though we do not know the details, only the feelings. The baritone voice of Allen Tate, endlessly compared to Matt Berninger’s of The National — feeds a resigned and dramatic yet loving character. New female vocalist Rae Cassidy—whose voice did not appear on the album—plays an elusive, grounded and fervent woman. In one of the opening songs, “Casanova,” as the two characters harmonize with the refrain “I can’t fall asleep in your arms,” neither make eye contact, which adds theatrical depth to the performance.

Although Tate and Cassidy play the main voices—even faces—of the characters, every member of the band played a significant role. In “Sonsick,” the trumpet and saxophone players came to the front of the stage, stood on a ledge and soloed to the excited applause of the audience. Composer Ludwig-Leone introduced one member of the band after every single song. Tate makes the final introduction to Leone—“He wrote the music,” he explained, to the surprise of many.

“We’re going to try something new tonight,” said Leone, halfway through the set. “This is a new song called “‘Parasites.’” The synth and bass heavy instrumentals complemented Cassidy’s powerful vocals, but when Tate tried to start a clap, the audience remained unresponsive. This was the kind of concert people watched in awe, not the type that made people feel like moving.

The highlight for me was the song “Oh Darling,” a song I first heard from their Tiny Desk Concert. The crowd stayed completely silent for its entire duration as a sparse piano and soft female vocals slowly built into a chorus of instruments and voices.

Near the end, Cassidy, who had been acting as the heart of the band, seemed to be falling sick, not uncommon for those who must sing their hearts out every few days. In the end the band played only a forty-five minute set. Upon informing the audience of their final song, Tate heard a huge, collective groan. He smiled, and the band came back to perform “The Count” for the encore, a song where we once again hear the chilling refrain—“I can’t fall asleep in your arms.”

Leone, creative mastermind behind San Fermin, has mentioned that “the most intense moments are the ones in which conflicting emotional worlds exist inside you, equally, at once.” In some ways, the two contrasting characters we saw that night represented those conflicting emotional worlds. San Fermin is not a story of plot twists or coherent narratives, but of being pushed and shoved by these conflicting emotional worlds.

A Rock Story With Classical Roots: San Fermin
Audience Interaction7
7.4Overall Score

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