There are few bands like San Fermin (pronounced fur-MEEN, like the Spanish bull-fighting festival). By way of introduction, the band’s composer and keyboardist Ellis Ludwig-Leone, simply states “we’re San Fermin from Brooklyn, New York.” This is also the extent of the group’s Instagram bio and it does provide a rather neat cultural shorthand. Neater than having to explain your existence as an eight-piece chamber rock group with two lead singers and one composer.
Drummer, Michael Hanf, sitting crouched over the drums, lights the show’s fuse. The other musicians emerge onto the stage and quickly everyone is playing. Singer, Charlene Kaye, calls the people at the sides and the back of the venue up to the front. The first song is Oceanica, from the new album, ‘Belong’. The rolling, fizzing energy of the music (the saxophone part is jaw-dropping) is halted only by the intermittent refrain, “Sea change into pain, but also something rich and strange.”
San Fermin incorporate a lot of movement during the set. Trumpet, saxophone, violin, vocals – these are all mobile instruments and the shifting formation adds greatly to the energy of the show. At one point later in the set, saxophonist Stephen Chen steps up on top of a speaker at the side of the stage. Charlene Kaye and Allen Tate share lead vocals and in songs where they aren’t singing, both take turns on guitar.
There is such a sense of togetherness, of ensemble. It’s a joyous thing to watch. During Emily, from the ‘Jackrabbit’ album, Tate and Kaye turn to each other a sing a few lines face to face. In Dead, a powerful head-banger from the new album, Chen and newest member, violinist Claire Willen, lock eyes and synchronise from opposite ends of the stage. On many of the songs Willen also sings the vital harmony vocals which have illuminated San Fermin’s songs all along. Of particular note are Parasites and the glorious Sonsick. Kaye, quite rightly, gets us all up on our feet (“I think we could all stand for this one”), before she delivers its remarkable vocal.
Directly after this, we are treated to Belong, the latest album’s title track, which features beautiful singing from both Tate and Kaye. The lyric encapsulates the allure of San Fermin, the depth and the warmth and the mystery: “Honey, I belong to you, but not all the time.”
As the band leave the stage after a double encore – the plaintive first-album song Oh, Darling (sung by Willen), followed by the exhilarating Jackrabbit (Kaye stepping off the low stage and pushing into the crowd) – there are eight pints of Guinness waiting, which they raise to the appreciative crowd.
(* = from ‘Belong’ album)
Better Company *
No Promises *
Palisades / Storm *
Happiness Will Ruin This Place *