San Fermin is the brain child of Brooklyn-based composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone. Though Ellis writes all the music himself, he has assembled a band of eight members that play sonorous chamber-pop music, incorporating strings, brass, keys and, of course, frontman Allen Tate’s stirring vocals. Earlier this year, the band released their sophomore album, Jackrabbit, and are currently wrapping up a December tour to promote their single “No Devil” and the deluxe edition of their latest record.
This past Wednesday, San Fermin performed at the Legendary Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto with opener Sam Amidon. Amidon, a highly-regarded musician in his own right, played some timeless folk tunes with a small three-piece band, comprised of a guitarist, San Fermin’s Michael Hanf on drums, and the singer himself, alternating between guitar and banjo. Overall, it was a pleasant performance, save for a couple of bizarre moments.
Towards the middle of his set, it seemed Amidon was losing patience with an inattentive crowd. One song was followed with a silence of upwards of two minutes, where the audience was unsure if they were supposed to clap or if it was a performance bit. The dead stare of Amidon made that distinction all the more difficult to tell. Then, at the end of his set, Amidon won over the crowd with a scream of epic proportions. Next to his soft vocals and lulling guitar, it seemed out of place, particularly for the singer’s closing performance.
When San Fermin took to the stage, there was a unmistakeable change in the room. The spectators that had been murmuring and distracted, suddenly had all eyes on stage. It was really something to see. Following a roaring applause, the crowd began to quiet down. Taking advantage of this silence, the band played a haunting performance of “The Woods,” the opening track from their sophomore LP. It didn’t take long to pull me in, but once the baritone sax began to blare from the front of the stage, I knew I was in for an incredible show.
I quickly realized that San Fermin were not just great musicians, but also true performers. They danced around the stage with an infectious energy and played every song with a genuine sense of excitement. It was obvious that these are musicians that truly love what they do and seeing them rock-out together made it impossible to not enjoy. Many moments of this show left me totally speechless, making it difficult to pick a favourite moment. From the incredible brass solo on “The Count” to the quiet storm that was “Astronaut” to John Brandon’s brilliant crowd-performance on “Parasites” or listening to the audience sing along to fan-favourite “Sonsick,” it was truly an unforgettable show.
Even with all those incredible moments, though, I think the most amazing part of the show for me was listening to “Two Scenes.” As you probably could have guessed, this song has two very distinct patterns of movement: one uplifting and the other brooding. It’s this dynamic that made the song a particularly special performance to witness, and part of what made it an apt transition to closing number “Jackrabbit.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of people dancing happily to the words “You’re gonna die, you’re gonna die, you’re gonna die / Run for the hills, run for the hills, run,” but San Fermin managed to pull it off. And the momentous applause that followed seemed to re-affirm this belief.
If there’s one thing that stood out to me leaving the venue later that night, it was the band’s incredible chemistry. Performing with a band of 8 is no easy task in itself, but to have all 8 members totally in-sync with one another is something you just don’t see very often. I’ve seen many concerts this year, but this show was undoubtedly one of the best. If San Fermin is coming to a venue near you, do yourself a favor and go see them. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
Cover photo by Gaby Alvarez