“Gotta get out of my head tonight,” sings San Fermin vocalist Allen Tate in a low hypnotizing chant on their catchy single, “Emily.” Looking around at attendees of the intimate Velvet Jones show, dancing, swaying, and staring in musical surrender to the horns, violin, and powerhouse vocals surrounding them, Tate can consider his goal collectively achieved.
Pop rock openers, Ivan & Alyosha set the stage nicely for the smaller crowd to engage in a communal experience, encouraging fan participation in singing, clapping, and overall merriment. The upbeat group showcased many tracks from their latest album, It’s All Just Pretend,” while demonstrating genuine authenticity and musical chops. Highlights included the driving title track “It’s All Just Pretend” and older favorite “Easy to Love.”
When the headliners took the stage, energy shifted into something darker and more mysterious, pulling the audience into the band’s vortex. The eight-member orchestral indie-pop group, San Fermin, is a band that commands attention. Songwriter and composer, Ellis Ludwig-Leone’s name seems noteworthy in and of itself, but his study of classical music at Yale and compositions for the New York City Ballet provide even more high-brow heft.
Ludwig-Leone’s thoughtful arrangements play out beautifully in their live show. Although the songs are tightly crafted, the emotional build appears organic and raw spilling over into vocal riffing, trumpet and saxophone solos, and the closest thing I’ve seen to a horns-inspired mosh pit.
Female vocalist Charlene Kaye’s angelic pipes and confident stage presence danced nicely with Allen’s bass vocals, which are akin to The National’s Mark Berninger’s distinctive sound. The low, slightly detached tone worked well to balance out the band’s bombastic builds and intense instrumentation.
Playing many highlights from their grittier second album Jackrabbit including the bouncy “Parasites” and the moodily ethereal “Astronaut,” the group also treated listeners to a selection of new songs, which made me glad that this bunch continues to breed!
The stirring sounds on “Dead” provided a circus vibe, but a neatly orchestrated circus, one you wouldn’t mind getting lost in for awhile.
With a rollicking beat, sweet harmonies, and the violin player jumping in on the mandolin, “No Devil” added a dash of bluegrass to the group’s sonic stew. Loyalists to their more lush, eponymously titled first album were treated to favorites such as the entrancing “Methuselah” and irresistible “Sonsick,” where the collective emotional energy soared.
By the time San Fermin played their closing numbers including title track “Jackrabbit,” in which Kaye exuberantly belts, “Run for the hills, run!” no one was ready to make that move. The audience seemed quite happily lost in their rabbit hole.
Perhaps the line was just a reminder to the band itself. With a talented ensemble, passionate energy, and tight songwriting, their future seems bound for new heights.