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Saturday, 22 February 2014 15:26

Concert review: San Fermin (with Son Lux) go for baroque at Off Broadway, Friday, Februrary 21

Concert review: San Fermin (with Son Lux) go for baroque at Off Broadway, Friday, Februrary 21
Written by Blair Stiles
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Ryan Lott had never been to St. Louis. The Brooklyn, N.Y. dweller, and brain behind Son Lux, spent upwards of seven weeks holed up in Indiana. Presumably, he worked fastidiously on "Lanterns," Son Lux's third release, and developed an insatiable appetite for corn and Pacers basketball.

Friday night at Off Broadway, the bespectacled Lott was flanked by Rafiq Bhatia on guitar and People Get Ready percussionist Ian Chang. The set sparked a fire from its tipoff. Son Lux's first song "Alternate World" used MacBook-produced samples and Lott's precariously tilted keyboard (with all the bells and whistles of an oiled Rhodes) to hit that aural drag like ointment on a burn. With Bhatia in full-effect mode his guitar lines waded into Son Lux's ambient hip-hop deluge. The comely blend of Lott's sparrow-like vocals and Bhatia's song-to-song pedal effect evolution turned that anointed burn into a healed wound. "Easy," "Pyre" and "Lanterns Lit" were cinematic in their gothic tempo drops and mottled bass effects. Juxtaposed with Chang's fearsome percussion -- a free spirited polyrhythmic interpretation of Lott's "Lanterns" foundation -- Son Lux's live show was a balanced and bold opener for San Fermin's baroque complexities.

San Fermin is named after Spain's Festival de San Fermin. Almost 100 years ago Ernest Hemingway could be seen in the stands observing the destruction of the bulls at the hands of the bullfighters. A lost protagonist of art, romance, and sport, Hemingway probably identified with the bull more than the torero. Hemingway was the minotaur; his sport of choice was the hunt for romance in a labyrinth of paramours and the written word.

Composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone and lead male vocalist Allen Tate of San Fermin seem to subscribe to the aesthetic of Hemingway. Ludwig-Leone orchestrates the stratospheric vocals, with Rae Cassidy delivering them live, and connects violin, trumpet, saxophone (among other instruments) to Tate's robust baritone. Tate rumbled through "Oh, Renaissance," "Methuselah" and "Daedalus" alongside Cassidy. His striking timbre makes him an obvious focal point and tranquilizes the joints in one's knees. An aside: hubba-hubba.

Cassidy performs her vocals with a bravado. The line, "Now I know it's just another fuck," from "Sonsick," lost its felinity in Cassidy's presentation. She sounded wiser, less apt to knowingly provoke a poor fate than on the recorded version. Clad in a sleeveless black leather dress, she looked like the girl caught in the maze with Tate's hulking minotaur.

Both Tate and Cassidy moved around each other without caution and any territorial disputes. For subjects of Ludwig-Leone's think-pieces on life and death, they played their parts well -- everyone did. At times San Fermin's set felt like a reenactment of the album endeared to the packed house at Off Broadway. Had Tate and Cassidy been given lines -- the show would have taken on a theatrical affectation. Instead, San Fermin delivered a classical piece of baroque pop, and we were all roped into the bullring, the labyrinth, what have you.

When San Fermin came back onstage for its encore, a rapturous, sax-laden rendition of the Strokes' "Heart in a Cage," the audience was shrill and popped off rounds of superlatives and expletives. The crowd's excitement matched San Fermin's own on the two new songs, "Parasites" and "Woman in Red." The new numbers are as ambitious as Ludwig-Leone's prior compositions. If he creates an album out of that template, he may achieve a new level of musical craftsmanship.

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