Some Kind of Wonderful

February 10th, 2014

San Fermin – The Bowery Ballroom – February 7, 2014

Choosing to begin their sold-out show at The Bowery Ballroom on Friday night with “Renaissance,” the emotive, slow-building piece that opens San Fermin’s self-titled debut album, was a sly move. As on the LP, the song was a lovely invitation, a restrained and appealing melody that entices you to listen more, yet only hints at the sonic range and variety that simmers beneath the chamber-pop surface. By the time the heavy horns and brash vocal harmonies kick in on the album’s following song, “Crueler Kind,” it feels like something of a wonderful surprise—a treat that also played to great effect during the show.

Among the eight musicians crowded onstage—two lead singers, a singer-violinist, a three-person horn section, a drummer and guitarist—Ellis Ludwig-Leone, the composer, songwriter and general mastermind of San Fermin, stood modestly behind a keyboard off to the side. He crafted each song on his own, eventually fleshing out his compositions with vocalists and additional musicians, an approach befitting his classical music background. The precision and craft of Ludwig-Leone’s songs are apparent throughout, particularly on songs like “Sonsick” and “Torero.” The band did his vision justice, performing with preciseness and skill, while lead vocalists Allen Tate and Rae Cassidy took care to treat their parts with meticulous attention and deliberate timing, bringing the appropriate emotion to lyrics brimming with detail and nostalgia.

The high level of musicianship and focus on display doesn’t mean it was a staid, serious affair: No, the band was clearly having fun, nearly reaching Arcade Fire levels of energy, most notably on their unpredictable and impressive reimagining of the Strokes’ “Heart in a Cage” and during the debut performance of the dark and appealing new tune, “Parasite.” By the time Ludwig-Leone announced the last song of the night, there was audible booing from the fired-up crowd. But with a band concept built on incorporating fresh sounds and ideas, it’s likely that San Fermin will be back soon, continuing to delight and surprise. —Alena Kastin