San Fermin played out like The National meets Beirut. Photo: Kyle Dean Reinford
There was a lot of anticipation surrounding this show. That notion was clear when I arrived to a line of 50 or more people outside of Kilby Court waiting for the doors to open. As I waited in line, I looked a little closer at the venue that was on a “50 Best Concert Venues in America” list, last year. The blood red gates were a little beaten but bright. Tin surrounded different parts of the building, and scraggly, leafless trees towered over the whole scene. It felt very swampy and strange, which added to my excitement surrounding the show. I knew very little about either band, but I had heard enough to know I didn’t want to miss their performance.
L’Anarchiste was set to open. I had initially taken them for nothing more than a local, polished folk group, but they blew my expectations out of the water. They opened with the first song from their latest album, The Traveler. The opening synth bass line was much more impressive in person. I heard the guy next to me say, “Last time I saw them, they had an accordion.” Several of us were taken aback by how progressive their sound was live. Their violin player would quickly pluck her strings to create a xylophone-esque sound, and the horn player would give long breaths to add depth to the bass. There was a jazzy feel behind their live performance, which opened the audience’s mind. They shared a number, “Hold Tight,” from their new album, which continues the bands vein of progression. With horn sputters and unique harmonies, L’Anarchiste showed why they continue to be one of our city’s most acclaimed bands.
Son Lux followed, and offered one of the best sets I’ve seen to date. I had only recently discovered Son Lux, but I knew he had a sound that I desperately wanted to hear performed live. It’s synth influenced, but has so much life surrounding its electronically produced sounds. Each song was so moving that I felt like I was listening to the score of some dramatic film throughout the entire set—something like Fantasia, only directed by Stanley Kubrick. Ryan Lott, the man behind Son Lux, was so eccentric in all his motions. He was constantly moving, and reaching out for air around him. His actions were dramatic, but the music completely backed him up. Guitarist Rafiq Bhatia lived up to the title as one of “the most promising improvisers in the United States today,” recently featured in a New York Times article
. Bhatia completely electrified the orchestral sound of Son Lux. There were a few specific moments where the electric guitar and synthesized sound energy reminded me of intense moments from the Sufjan Stevens’ classic, Age of Adz. I’ve always regretted not seeing Sufjan perform at Kingsbury Hall, but Son Lux became a form of redemption for me. What was even better was being at Kilby Court so that I could dance the way the music moved me, and so many of those around me. Son Lux closed with his recently featured Best New Track on Pitchfork, “Lost It To Trying.”
This was the first song I had heard from Son Lux, and if it were up to me, I wouldn’t have asked them to end the show any different. This song is one of those moments where Son Lux’s channels the greatness reached on Age of Adz. But during the live performance, I could also feel Son Lux’ sense for alternative hip-hop beats. There was a loud and vivid break during that song where the vocals ceased, and I could feel the song just begging for the right rapper to lay down a beastly verse right on top of it. It was a powerful moment, and when the song was over their set ended to gracious applause.
The evening’s headliner, San Fermin, is the formation of Yale music-degree recipient, Ellis Ludwig-Leone. Although Leone wrote the entirety of the music, he was the most quiet onstage. He only “appeared” once from behind his keyboard to accept applause when introduced as the group’s creator by vocalist Allen Tate. San Fermin’s music, which sounds like a hybrid of The National and Beirut, was a somewhat relaxing way to close out the evening. At first listen, Tate’s voice sounded like Matt Berninger (vocalist for The National), but as I continued to listen, I could hear a different voice, something more hollow. It was much like the strange baritone of vocalist Daughn Gibson. Come to think of it, Tate even looks like Gibson, but what added to the San Fermin’s authenticity was the addition of soprano Jess Wolf. Her vocal ability was stirring, and when she would trade off lyrics with Tate, I was fully drawn into their sound. Tate took a pause halfway through the show to comment on the venue, saying cheerfully, “This place reminds me of basement shows in college.” It must’ve been the recognition of that basement show vibe that allowed San Fermin to loosen up for their rousing final number. They began jamming hard from the get go, and the drummer’s presence became more noticeable. During a breakdown that felt like hip-hop to me for a moment, Tate and Wolf stepped back from their mics, and instantly, the saxophone and horn player were at the very edge of the stage, belting out their notes. It reminded me of seeing the sax solo from M83’s Midnight City at In The Venue. There’s so much passion behind an unbridled saxophone player, and I loved it. It was nice to see a polished band get loud before their exit. It only added to a night full of exceeded expectations.
Son Lux and San Fermin will continue their national tour, but I’m so stoked they stopped by Salt Lake to add a breath of fresh air to my hectic week. There’s nothing like getting your moneys worth at good ol’ Kilby Court.