LIVE REVIEW: San Fermin @ Brooklyn Steel

On May 13, San Fermin returned to Brooklyn, where they got their start, to put on a show worth remembering. Though the venue, Brooklyn Steel, just opened, several band members mentioned during the show just how important it was to be playing a homecoming gig, and they performed their hearts out to show their love and appreciation for the journey they’ve been on so far.

San Fermin is the brainchild of Ellis Ludwig-Leone, who produces and writes songs for the band. San Fermin’s third album Belong was just released in April of this year, and it reveals a more solid, confident side than prior albums. Part of that comes from the lyrics’ vulnerability; for Belong, Ellis confronted his anxiety and fear of disconnection, making it more raw but all the stronger for that. Not only has Ellis become a more self-assured and immersed bandleader, but the synergy between all band members are at a peak. This came across immediately and enthusiastically in their performance.

The show started off with “Oceanica” and “Bride,” two tracks off their latest album that both hold the ethereal yet foreboding aura that’s to be expected from San Fermin. Frontwoman and multi-instrumentalist Charlene Kaye was an elegant Siren in a silver jumpsuit who swung her head and danced with fluid movements perfectly matched to each song. At one point, she grabbed a guitar and stood on the drumset, illuminated in light, arms extended and holding the guitar overhead as she strummed, relishing her grounding lead role amongst the discordant charm that embodies much of San Fermin’s music.

On tracks like “Methuselah”  Kaye made space for her co-vocalist Allen Tate, their voices complimented, encouraged, and enriched one another perfectly as they passionately delivered their messages while the rest of the band was enveloped in shadow, giving the illusion of two people singing simultaneously while occupying separate worlds. When the two sang duets together, such as with “Parasites,” there was a radiating admiration between the pair that reverberated as deeply as Tate’s baritone.

When Kaye took to the drums during the encore performance of “Happiness Will Ruin this Place,” “Astronaut,” and “Oh Darling,” it allowed for other members of the group to shine as brightly as she had. “Oh Darling” saw striking vocals from the newest member of San Fermin, violinist Claire Wellin.

There was a mutual respect between everyone on stage that permeated the show deeply. Between songs, they gradually introduced members of the band and held for applause. Ellis was introduced before the band left the stage for its encore, and the applause was (unsurprisingly) staggering, taking maybe even him by surprise. The reverence held by the band for its leader was felt by each person in the audience as we cheered in an attempt to convey our appreciation for what he’s created.

San Fermin’s Brooklyn Steel show was a pinnacle of their musical career, one that highlighted a band that has grown into itself and embraced its full potential. Seeing such a performance in the city where the band got its beginnings can only go down as a momentous occasion within that musical career.

TRACK OF THE WEEK: San Fermin, “Bride”

It’s a good day when you stumble upon new music from San Fermin, and this week they’ve delivered “Bride,” from their upcoming album, Belong. It’s a poignant snapshot of social anxiety—something so many of us have dealt with in some capacity—which made it a shoe-in for our Track of the Week.

Charlene Kaye performs in her usual intoxicating style, her rich vocals easy to bask in. Like many a San Fermin track, “Bride” is layered with orchestral flourishes—violin, guitar, drums, trumpet, and harp—all expertly played and working in lush accordance to deliver a story. And the story, says San Fermin’s producer, composer, and bandleader Ellis Ludwig-Leone, is based on a true one.

The title of Belong vaguely alludes to Ludwig-Leone’s struggles with anxiety and his childhood search to fit in. His musical endeavors have helped him build confidence, and after two gorgeous albums, he’s finally delving into more personal stories, particularly related to mental health. To compose this track (based on a wedding-induced panic attack), he wrote from the perspective of a flower-clad bride at the surreal moment of her wedding day. Her panicked dissociation is at odds with the stereotypical joy of marriage – but it wouldn’t be a San Fermin song without that otherworldly darkness cloaking the beautiful vocals and instrumentals.

It’s telling that Ludwig-Leone chose a bride to symbolize the pressures of social expectation. Every aspect of wedding planning comes down to making each moment of the “big day” perfect, and the harshest scrutiny is usually reserved for the woman at the altar. Long before a bride walks down the aisle, she drives herself to high levels of stress, searching out the perfect florist, the perfect band, the perfect venue. It brings to mind the negative images of Bridezilla—rarely do we hear stories of “The Groom From Hell”—but what happens when all that stress is turned inward? Perhaps a dissociative meltdown, like the one Kaye sings about?

Society puts a lot of pressure on us to be the perfect versions of ourselves at all times, stage-managing every single situation so that we come away with picture perfect memories to look back on. “Bride” is Ludwig-Leone’s nod to the irrationality of that notion, of how it only sets us up for continual breakdowns as we come crashing down from our adrenaline-laced, manic perfectionism. Once her wedding comes to fruition, when the bride is finally able to relax, slow down, and take everything in, she disconnects from the moment she’s been building herself up for all along. That’s anxiety in a nutshell – prolonged, continuous stress that stops you from really enjoying what you’ve stressed about cultivating in the first place.

“Bride” reminds us that we don’t have to be perfect, but it’s clear that San Fermin have achieved something close to that on Belong. The record comes out April 7; until then, listen to “Bride” below.