Finding the Valley Bar is a bit of a challenge. When you arrive via Google Maps, there is nothing there but a dark alley. You nervously head down the alley and then find around the corner there is a very small red neon sign that states “Valley Bar.” After showing your ID to bartender, even if you are in your 50’s, you head down the stairs into the basement of a building. The concert takes places in a small room with a bar that could hold maybe 150 people.
San Fermin is the creation of Brooklyn composer and songwriter Ellis Ludwig-Leone. Their self-titled debut album is strongly influenced by Ludwig-Leone’s unique background in classical music, which includes a job assisting composer/arranger Nico Muhly. After finishing his musical studies at Yale, Ludwig-Leone wrote the album in six weeks while holed up in a studio on the mountainous border between Alberta and British Columbia. He focused on lifeʼs top-shelf issues – youth, nostalgia, anxiety, unrequited love – and tied these vast themes to different characters through vocal contributions from longtime friend Allen Tate, as well as Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius.
Tonight, the eight-piece band fills the small place with their vibrant sounds. Claire Wellin commands the stage with enthusiastic tosses of her huge mane of hair and brilliant smile. Karlie Bruce displays her vocal talent during their hit song, Sonsick, and provides wonderful back-up vocals with Wellin throughout. Many songs feature fantastic brass that energizes the band and the crowd. Allen Tate’s vocal performance is impressive as well and sounds similar to the lead singer from The National. The rendition of Methuselah brought the house down. During a lively instrumental, the trumpet and saxophone players come to the front of the stage the cheers of the audience who are enthusiastic for the entire performance. They close the memorable night with “Cairo” from their 2017 album, Belong.