San Fermin is an ensemble you have to see to believe. Resembling an orchestral starter-kit, the eight piece traveling band was supported by local string quartet Invoke at the Barns at Wolf Trap on Friday Night. From brass to drums, keyboard to xylophone, guitar to electric violin, the hodgepodge chamber-pop band filled the stage with elaborate arrangements driven by a multitude of instruments.
With their sophomore album slated to be released in April, San Fermin announced they would be using this string of dates to work through their new music, making the choice of mainly concert hall venues suddenly more sensible. They performed the recently released singles “Jackrabbit” and “Parasites” to a dedicated and already familiar crowd along with other unreleased tracks including “Astronaut” and “Philosopher,” which gained the approval of concert-goers. At times it was obvious the band was not yet performing by memory, while at other times proved they were running like a well oiled machine. Their music requires a high level of coordination, with several performers switching off between instruments and local string support in select cities who are playing as part of San Fermin for the first time ever.
There’s a clear camaraderie among the performers in San Fermin that enhances the live experience and invests the audience. When he’s not stealing hearts with his mesmerizing baritone, lead vocalist Allen Tate circles the stage to amp up his bandmates and keep the energy high. Although it’s a crowded stage, each instrumentalist has the opportunity to be the center of attention. While baritone saxophone and trumpet solos sprinkle San Fermin’s most beloved tracks like “Sonsick,” the violin and drums are given more focus on newer tracks. There is definitely a theatrical element to their performances, which often leads to the materialization of struggles or love stories in their music and lead vocalists Charlene Kaye and Allen Tate jumping into the crowd to act out their lyrical roles.
Overall, San Fermin live is invigorating and enchanting. Meticulously managed by composer and keyboardist Ellis Ludwig-Leone, the unique ensemble transitioned elegantly throughout the night from reverberating power songs to slow and profound ballads. Friday’s show was only the second of their tour in anticipation of Jackrabbit, but promises great things ahead.
Not to be outdone, opener White Hinterland successfully charmed the crowd with impressive down-tempo vocals accompanied by keyboard and synth instrumentation. Often employing unusual lyrics and melodies, soloist Casey Dienel draws comparisons to Bjork or Fiona Apple. As she ended her set, White Hinterland engaged the audience as her back up vocalists to achieve the choral ambitions of her music.