By: Derek Jung
The Midpoint Indie Summer Series continued Friday night on Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati with Brooklyn based San Fermin. The band, touring for the release of their sophomore album Jackrabbit, took the stage in front of what I perceived to be a smaller than normal crowd at the square. This, I surmised, was because Matt and Kim were headlining the University of Cincinnati's free Red & Black concert the same night, but I could be wrong. Regardless, San Fermin brought out many of the heavy hitters from Jackrabbit and their self-titled debut.
For those who aren't familiar with San Fermin, the band has co-lead singers, one male, Allen Tate, and one female, Charlene Kaye. Typically, one of them sings lead while the other provides back-up vocals, but at times they do go back and forth in the same song. Allen Tate's baritone vocals have been widely compared to Matt Berninger from The National, but I also hear some throaty inflections and cadence that sound similar to Samuel Herring from Future Islands too.
I'll admit to being biased towards two things about San Fermin. First, I preferred Kaye's predecessor in the band, Rae Cassidy, who Kaye replaced in April 2014. While I think Kaye holds her own in the role, I think Cassidy more successfully captured the essence of the songs from the debut album, specifically Sonsick. Second, I like the female led songs, whether by Cassidy or Kaye, much more than those led by Tate, and this continued with Friday night's performance.
The band came on almost exactly at 10pm, and wasted no time diving headfirst into Jackrabbit with "The Woods". It became immediately apparent that the sound mix was going to be terrible. We're talking one of the worst mixes that I've ever heard. The drums were muted, and I questioned whether the snare was mic'd at all. Instruments came in and out throughout the set and it oftentimes sounded like the sound guy was raising and lowering volume levels depending on who he thought was supposed to be in the limelight at the time. At one point, Stephen Chen, the saxophonist, was in a huge groove towards the front of the stage and the crowd was into it. Moments later, the sound inexplicably dropped off and we hardly heard the last thirty or so seconds of him playing, although he was still dancing around stage with the same fervor as before. The violinist Rebekah Durham had the same thing happen to her too. For the record, I highly doubt this was just a case of technical difficulties, and I respect the hell out of what a good sound crew can do for a band, but Friday night's performance on the board was an atrocity.
The band can also be pretty awkward on stage. Since Kaye and Tate switch who takes lead, the other really doesn't have much to do. Kaye would turn her back on the crowd and just idly dance to herself or shake a shaker and Tate would move to the back of the stage and play an electric guitar while facing either the drummer or away from the crowd. It got weird sometimes.
I thought Stephen Chen and John Brandon, on saxophone and trumpet respectively, had their instruments been audible like they should have been, would have been the perfect addition to capture the orchestral feeling live that is so present in the albums. There were definitely moments where this was achieved, but unfortunately every element was so overshadowed by the shoddy sound overall, that the two instruments were often nonexistent. The product sounded so empty in the open aired space, and I think the reaction of the crowd, save for those right up on the stage, mirrored what we were hearing. Had this been in a club with a better mix, I think I can safely say that this review would have been much different. Instead, the sound guy got the spotlight, and that's something you never want to happen.
I can't write this review without giving a shout-out to locals Lemon Sky who I saw open. They're more hard rock than I expected to open for San Fermin, but I think they sounded great. The Ridges, Sweet & the Sweet Sweets, and Orchids also opened, but I didn't make it down in time to catch their sets.
Check out a fan-recorded video of the opening song "The Woods" in potato quality...and the back of some guy's head. The full set list is also below.
Woman in Red
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary (debatable) guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here: