San Fermin Reaches Final Form with Magik*Magik Orchestra

This is the kind of show the Fillmore was made for.

Much like bacon and the color black, the Magik*Magik Orchestra goes with everything. Minna Choi’s revolving cast of symphony players are now an indispensable part of Pop Up Magazine’s productions, and have collaborated to bring strings, brass, winds, and more to concerts and recordings from a diverse array of artists.

On Friday,  it was Brooklyn’s San Fermin that enjoyed Magik*Magik’s company for a lengthy and compelling set that harkened back to the best of what the Fillmore has to offer. This was live music, plain and simple — the kind played with joyful abandon, where silhouettes of sweat beads rain across the spotlights and the energy level continues to rise until the final notes.

As a band that boasts eight members of its own, San Fermin fills the stage. Unlike most groups, the outfit’s central figure, composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone, doesn’t place himself front and center but instead sets up shop with keyboards at the side. Instead that space is shared by Allen Tate and Charlene Kaye, co-lead vocalists who balance each other out so well that one starts to wonder if they weren’t at one time one soul that eventually split in two.


Most San Fermin songs build on those vocals, be it Tate’s low baritone (think Matt Berninger of The National) or Kaye’s impressive range, which can oscillate from falsetto to a primal rock shriek and back again in the course of a single track. From there enters the rest of the crew: drums, horns, synths, and violin. A mini-orchestra in their own right, the addition of a small selection of Magik*Magik players turned the evening into what could be called San Fermin’s final form.

It’s easy to throw a bunch of musicians on stage and call it special, but far harder to take the time beforehand required to make sure each element compliments the work as a whole. Ludwig-Leone clearly did his homework, as the participation of Magik*Magik was never overpowering or overshadowed. Each song — be it the stomp-along pomp of “Cairo” or enigmatic trance cast in “Woman in Red” — was complex enough to support the addition of Magik*Magik’s contributions, the guest performers seamlessly becoming yet another pair of glowing eyes in the dark forest of San Fermin’s sound.

There was also a lot of euphoria to be found on Friday evening. The band was clearly pumped to playing with Magik*Magik and taking the Fillmore stage as headliners for the first time. You could see it each time Kaye wielded her hair like a weapon during a particularly energetic moment, or in how Ludwig-Leone couldn’t stop himself from dancing behind his rig and conducting along with the songs not as San Fermin’s creative force, but as a man possessed by the music all around him.

The Fillmore has played host to more shows than one could probably see in a lifetime, but as the taste and whims of the industry continue to evolve (and devolve), the range of acts booked to play San Francisco’s most hallowed venue has extended far beyond the nuts and bolts rock that were a signature of the space’s early days. Thus it’s more than a little heartening when an evening like the one San Fermin and Magik*Magik put together occurs. It’s a reminder that although rock in 2018 is something very different from the all-night, LSD fueled jam sessions held by the Grateful Dead half a century ago, the medium’s DNA continues to survive and reconfigure itself.

As long as the Fillmore and Noise Pop continue to seek out the hosts who now house this most intangible biology, the thrill of live music lives on.  


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