San Fermin, 5/3/2016, Parish, Austin, Photos – Review

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Written by Greg Ackerman

Brooklyn Baroque pop act San Fermin stopped in Austin Tuesday at The Parish in support of their 2015 release, Jackrabbit. A good-sized crowd gathered at our favorite Sixth Street venue to catch an elegant set by a band that one could say is part of the New York City indie-art movement led by indie-popsters Lucius. In fact, Holly Laesig and Jess Wolfe of Lucius sing much of the vocals on San Fermin’s debut album but do not tour with the group. Instead, band leader Ellis Ludwig-Leone (keys) takes a talented bunch on the road featuring, Charlene Kaye (lead vocals), Rebekah Durham (backing vocals, viola) and Allen Tate (vocals).

The band includes a trumpet player (John Brandon), baritone sax (Stephen Chen), drums (Michael Hanf) and guitar (Tyler McDiarmid). The seven-piece ensemble produces a lovely but atypical sound melding classical music, baroque, rock and pop. Song selection varied from orchestral tracks like Parasites that included a dose of crowd participation to The Count that was evocative of Lucius’ sound with the ladies singing parts together. While some songs evoke Lucius, San Fermin are more a of sister act to the popular girls who have backed Jeff Tweedy on his solo tour. They can jam out as well as play more deliberate, intentional numbers.

Ludwig-Leone is an impressive young songwriter who as a Yale composition student worked with Nico Muhly an esteemed composer affiliated with Sufjan Stevens and Grizzly Bear. It was not Ludwig-Leone’s intention to start a band after college but that is what happened after the gifted composer hosted a party before graduation that ended up fusing his orchestral songs with pop melodies. The successful combination proved too difficult for Ludwig-Leone to ignore.

Fans were particularly boisterous yelling out platitudes such as, “You guys fuckin’ rock!” in what sounded like a sincere attempt at satire. Ludwig-Leone grinned sheepishly looking like the nerdy composer he is before leading his band into another lush arrangement.

A last-minute setlist addition announced by a clearly uncomfortable Ludwig-Leone, (“we were not going to play this next one but here it is,”) Philosopher with its jazzy drums garnered a loud reaction from the audience. Once again the ladies took center stage on vocals while the band dutifully soldiered on behind them.

Set closer and title track to San Fermin’s sophomore album, Jackrabbit closed out the set to cheers. With a deal on national imprint Downtown Records and an ambitious national tour that takes the group through July big things are on the horizon for this band. Most like to call their music Baroque pop but we’re going to go with art-rock. Anything that beautiful couldn’t be called anything less.