As eager bodies flitted toward centre stage, curious ears belonging to bottoms still firmly planted in seats aligning the floor were met with a concussive, echoing cloud as Son Lux emerged from the smoky shadows of the Biltmore Cabaret.
Vaguely haunting, rippling, and molasses-thick ambience oozed and consumed as layers of sound were peeled back, accented by brief vocal interludes equally amorphous in nature. As what would come to be an hour-long set unraveled and rearranged itself, exposing flashes of hip-hop roots and classically composed crescendos, the audience was subversively invited to forgo attempts at disseminating what exactly was going on.
The brainchild of Ryan Lott, Son Lux’s complex soundscapes were intricately woven around fundamentally familiar rock hooks. The chirpy vibrato and percolating bombast of “Lost It to Trying,” and the bowel shaking, toe tapping rhythm of “Easy,” exemplified this combination to great effect and showcased the band’s hold on the crowd as it swelled, ebbed, and swayed, indoctrinated to the beat. Complemented by the gutting sax of Stephen Chen (of San Fermin) who accompanied Son Lux for their finale, what began as curious potential evolved into an opening set that just as easily could have closed the night.
What Son Lux had in mystique and nuance on stage, San Fermin had in warm familial presence. An eight-piece ensemble bound together by composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone, San Fermin made economic use of the stage, filling the space with bodies and gear that soon had the Biltmore abuzz with folk pop, jam band operatics.
Opening with the somber, rolling anthem “Renaissance!” the nervous energy on stage simmered as the group evaluated the room. Their first time playing in Vancouver, after the unfortunate theft of their trailer derailed what would have been their final West Coast stop in the fall of last year, San Fermin lapped up the well-earned applause and retorted with invigorated renditions from their 2013 self-titled album, including the ubiquitous wailing “Sonsick” of which vocalist Rae Cassidy lithely disarmed and unleashed on eager ears.
With the polished gravel baritones of Allen Tate accompanying Cassidy throughout, the underpinnings of San Fermin — of youth, nostalgia, and unrequited love — shone in earnest with palpable emotion. Finishing the night with a handful of yet to be released tracks that highlighted the ensemble range, San Fermin capped things off with a homespun cover of the Strokes’ “Heart in a Cage” which had Chen twisting and contorting on sax in expert form much to the pleasure of the appreciative mob.
Stepping out into the cold night as the crowd dissipated, while still more lingered at the merch table for a chance to chat with the band, Ludwig-Leone’s San Fermin left me with the distinct feeling that “I resolved to love.”