Dallas audiences suck. It doesn’t seem to matter who takes the stage, it could be fucking Outkast, nine times out of ten at least 85% of the audience at any given show will stand emotionlessly for the entirety of the set. I don’t get it, and I don’t like it, but I’m resigned to it.
So the odds were certainly stacked against Brooklyn-based San Fermin, a relative unknown in these parts, when they took the stage at Dallas’ Club Dada on Sunday night to all of 60 people.
First, about the band. San Fermin is really Ellis Ludwig-Leone. Ludwig-Leone, a classically trained musician, composed all the music and lyrics for San Fermin’s self-titled debut which dropped late last year.
His music is hard to categorize. The debut is a concept album of sorts, tracks alternating between experimental musical interludes, and big, boisterous anthemic ballads. It’s a conversation between a man and a woman (reminiscent a little of the Stars duo), about love, loss and being human, and before I wax poetic, I will offer that, yes, the lyrics, with their quasi-religious bent, can border on schmaltz, but, unlike Stars, they always seem to be grounded in reality, albeit a rather hyper-serious, emo reality.
“Make plans and we’ll buy new things, try to fix it up Sonsick at the tee-ball games, oh, oh,” the lead female vocalist sings in one of the album’s standouts.
It’s baroque, avant pop in the vein of Sufjan Stevens, the Antlers or the Dirty Projectors, infused with that experimental, classical finesse the Dirty Projectors are famous for, but Ludwig-Leone imbues his music with more stunning, “weak knees,” moments thanks to a penchant for emotional climaxes.
The members of the band fluctuate, Allen Tate, the lead singer whose voice and vocal stylings have drawn comparisons to the National’s Matt Berninger, seems to be the mainstay. The seven-member band onstage at Dada was composed of the female lead (a part gorgeously recorded on the album by the Lucius duo), a trumpet player, guitarist, drummer, violinist/back-up vocalist, a saxophonist and Ludwig-Leone on keyboards. It’s a big band.
So about Sunday night. Here’s the thing, no matter what you think, or didn’t think, or thought you thought, of “San Fermin,” the album, assuming you thought of it at all, when you see San Fermin the band, live on stage, it’s like getting pumped with some serious auditory electricity, a “sonic baptism” as a previous reviewer called it. Live, the serious, polished band of the album, turns into a powerhouse of indie pop and experimental jazz. They’re so obviously kids having fun, but they just happen to be kids with serious musical chops indulging in the opportunity to sing some of the most breathless indie pop of the last couple of years, and despite the very real risk of taking the rather serious pop of the album too seriously, they know how to tread the line between sober solemnity and energetic enthusiasm.
The band ran through almost all of the songs from the album, improvising a little bit, but for the most part, mimicking the recorded versions. As expected they started with album openers “Renaissance!” and “Crueler Kind,” before launching into some new songs Ludwig-Leone has written on tour.
“Bar,” with its blaring horns and an especially powerful back and forth between the two lead singers was unsurprisingly a highlight, as was the conclusion “Daedalus (what we have),” with its softly, billowing keyboard and strings which, as with everything Ludwig-Leone writes, stops just before it explodes.
So yeah, back to Dallas audiences sucking. Despite the fact that the audience for the show was composed of, like I said, I would guess about 60 people (if only I could blame that on it being a Sunday), I couldn’t tell you the last time I felt a Dallas club with that much energy.
By the time the band was wrapping up their twelve-song set, everyone in the place seemed to be dancing, throwing their fists, clapping, singing, and most of all, smiling.
The exhausting tour schedules these bands are usually in the middle of during a stop in Dallas, typically ensures that bands, if they don’t seem tired, at least don’t seem too excited about their material anymore. Understandable. But these kids could have been singing these songs for the first time for all we would have known, and instead of seeming more tired as the show went on, they seemed to suck up more and more energy as the set wore on, and it was infectious.
San Fermin is young, and they’re un-tested, and who knows what a follow-up to the epic concept album that is “San Fermin,” will look like. But the show on Sunday night at Dada was one of those shows that makes you question the sanity of your friends, and really anyone, who wasn’t there. You know those shows. A show that reconfirms why you see live music in the first place, and makes you wonder how in the hell, you were lucky enough to be one of 60 people to watch the magic onstage.