Live Review: San Fermin @ Whelan’s, 16th April 2014


San Fermin created quite a stir with the release of their self-titled debut album late last year. The brainchild of the classically trained Brooklyn based Ellis Ludwig-Leone, it was something of a baroque pop masterpiece and was instantly hailed as such. Ludwig-Leone fused elements of pop, rock, jazz and classical to create something that was strikingly different, a sprawling and complex work that met with the approval of critics and music fans alike.

It was always going to be interesting to see how they would recreate this in a live setting, particularly in the narrow confines of a small club venue like Whelan’s. Last night, we got our answer as the Wexford St venue welcomed San Fermin for their first ever Dublin show. With eight musicians on the cramped stage, San Fermin put in a barnstorming display with a looser, more celebratory interpretation of the album to the delight of a near capacity audience. In comparison to the more austere version of these songs as presented on the record, San Fermin live was a very different experience, with a greater emphasis on rhythm and the more dance-y side of their music.

Many of the short, more avant garde instrumental pieces that peppered the album were left out, ensuring that the set maintained momentum from start to finish. They opened with the dramatic ‘Renaissance!’ before launching into big crowd favourite ‘Sonsick’, the perfect showcase for the considerable vocal talents of recent live recruit Charlene Kaye and their catchiest pop song by some distance.

With trumpet, sax and violin in the lineup, all the little flourishes and melodic embellishments that made the album so striking were adeptly and faithfully recreated. On ‘Casanova’, it was Allen Tate’s rich baritone voice that took centre stage, another song that drew a wildly enthusiastic response from the audience. The beautiful ‘Methuselah’ sounded a little rougher than on record while ‘Torero’ was their most obvious nod to a more conventional rock sound. The band seemed genuinely taken aback by the positive reaction to the new songs they played –’Demon Lover’ and ‘Parasites’ are pretty much in the same vein as the songs on their debut and sounded promising on first listen.

A fantastic overhaul of the Stroke’s song ‘Heart in a Cage’ closed the set before the crowd demanded their return for an encore that included an impressively chaotic trumpet and sax workout.
On the evidence of the audience response to their first visit to these shores, it’s a pretty safe bet that San Fermin will be taking their cleverly orchestrated brand of symphonic pop to a bigger stage next time around.
Image: San Fermin Facebook