The baroque pop group San Fermin is a formidable band to watch. They hit Brooklyn for two nights and are on tour now.
If a new teen center had opened in Hawkins, Indiana (from the fictional Stranger Things), and given the kids a chance to hear live music, similar to how Twin Peaks: The Return brought regular musical performances to the Roadhouse, Gracie and Rachel would have been a good guest performer. It was through the praise of NPR's Bob Boilen that I had the Brooklyn band on my radar. The duo's song, "Only a Child", was ranked 80th in NPR's 100 best songs of 2017, where their sound was described as "classical versus pop, baroque versus modern".
So it was especially fitting to see that they were opening for the baroque pop group San Fermin at Brooklyn Bowl on January 11th. Gracie and Rachel's (plus their drummer) second to last song, "Upside Down", was the highlight of their set and a shoe-in for fictional Hawkins fictional teen center.
But it is safe to say I was just as excited to see San Fermin, led by Ellis Ludwig-Leone, perform given that I hadn't seen them in a while and last year was notable for them. In 2017, the group brought in musician Claire Wellin (of Youth in a Roman Field) to bolster their already muscular sound. And then a few months later, they dropped their third album, Belong, which featured strong tracks like "Happiness Will Ruin this Place" and "Cairo".
The group's other instrumentalists, John Brandon (with his cool, trademark trumpet performance through the audience at one point), Stephen Chen (utterly powerful on his saxophone), Tyler McDiarmid and Michael Hanf, support the starkly contrasting vocals of Charlene Kaye and Allen Tate as they alternated duties on songs. Tracks from their new album, like the plodding "Cairo", were interspersed with tracks from their self-titled debut and 2015's standout Jackrabbit. To be honest, it was the title track from Jackrabbit that I wanted to hear again live. And as a satisfying end, San Fermin saved the number for their finale. But it was great to see how the band continued to refine their sonic palette. Baroque-pop may conceptually be a difficult genre to grasp one's head around but if you ignore that and give one a listen to San Fermin, it will be easy to see why they are so engaging.
Brooklyn Bowl January 11th, 2018 Gallery: