San Fermin / Son Lux Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver BC, February 28

San Fermin / Son Lux Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver BC, February 28
Photo: Steve Louie
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Although touring guitarist Rafiq Bhatia and drummer Ian Chang (People Get Ready) had both been to Vancouver before, the main man behind Son Lux, New York's Ryan Lott, appeared in the port city for the first time this evening and set the bar high with his opening set. Lott quietly released one of the best albums of 2013 in Lanterns, and his assembled power trio took all of its hip-hop-tinged post-rock compositions several steps further. Tracks like the ethereal "Alternate World" and queasy "Easy" were extended to twice their recorded length, allowing for incendiary broken guitar solos from Bhatia and powerful bursts of percussion from Chang.

Lott's voice had a rasp like Wayne Coyne (the Flaming Lips), tempered by the apocalyptic seriousness of Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu). His mannerisms were slightly uncomfortable, like a Tim Burton protagonist, but his zeal was obvious. He was very into his own music, hopping around and making dramatic hand gestures from behind a midi keyboard, physically enacting the pacing of sparser moments offset by explosions of sound. "Stay," in particular, was extremely impacting, care of Bhatia's epic reverse soloing and Lott's jazzy electric piano, while the borrowed baritone saxophone of Stephen Chen from San Fermin for "Lost It To Trying" brought it to another level.

In the unenviable position of following the Son Lux experience, San Fermin performed as best they could in their first Vancouver appearance (a previously planned trip was cancelled after their gear was stolen in Portland). The well-dressed eight-piece ensemble mostly performed songs from their eponymous 2013 debut album, save new tracks like the dramatic "Woman in Red" and synth-pop barn dance "Parasite." They used violin, sax, trumpet, drums, guitar and two vocalists in realizing the compositions of Brooklyn-based composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone, himself playing the keys.

Unfortunately, neither singer was particularly remarkable, with Allen Tate's deep voice coming off like a poor man's Leonard Cohen and Rae Cassidy's growls and whistles like a lesser Christina Aguilera. "Woman in Red" was particularly awkward in their vocal interplay, though they may still be working the kinks out of that one.

The rest of the band was consistently tight and dynamic, featuring spirited backing vocals and violin virtuosity from Rebekah Durham, sweetly supportive drumming from the jovial Michael Hanf and Ludwig-Leone's timely piano.

While Ludwig-Leone's music tends to be lumped in with the baroque pop camp by critics, their actual style — a big band playing well-orchestrated yet low key indie folk songs with an aim for honest cuteness — is closer to the likes of Ohbijou and the National than, say, Jacco Gardner or Pepe Deluxé. The guy certainly knows how to write a hit song, with the obvious single "Sonsick" taking the swing of "No Scrubs" to a much better place, thanks in no small part to John Brandon's trumpet. "Oh, Darling" tugged heart strings, being one of their slowest and saddest tracks. Overall, though, it felt like they should have been a little more fun than they were, but the post-Son Lux context probably had a large hand in that.