I first moved to Toronto a little over a year ago. Before considering any of the logistics of my move, I went to the Internet in search of live music venues, eager to experience the endless musical possibilities that only Canada’s largest city could offer me. The Hip lyrics, “that night in Toronto with it’s checkerboard floors, riding on horseback, and keeping order restored” always comes to mind. I’m not sure why it has taken me this long to see a show at the iconic Horseshoe Tavern, but here I was, extremely giddy to finally have my chance to be standing on those checkerboard floors.
I had finally arrived, just a little after 9. I was more than ready to take in this historic venue … and American indie folk artist Sam Amidon. The concert space is relatively small, sectioned off into the back half of the venue. The ceilings are low and the stage is only slightly elevated, making the experience an intimate one. The stage backdrop was done up with tinsel and festive stockings hung under a large Horseshoe Tavern sign. ‘Tis the holiday season. After a quick peek at the merch table, I wove through the crowds to find a comfortable spot just to the left of the stage. The venue was already teeming with people – a very eclectic bunch. It makes me exceedingly happy to find such diverse, full house for the opener. I love music’s ability to transcend age and gender in a way that universally resonates with so many different types of people.
I was expecting Amidon’s set to be rather mellow, but instead, it was a mostly up-tempo and quirky. The other musicians in his trio added a fullness to his sound that is not present in some of his recorded material. He was playful and engaging with the audience – at one point pulling a kinder surprise toy out of his pocket and at another encouraging the crowd to sing a long with him. There were times when the noise of the crowd chatter felt disruptive to the quieter moments of his set – a struggle I’m sure for most acoustic artists when playing quieter songs. However, he seemed not bothered by it and carried on with the show.
And then, the main event. San Fermin.
San Fermin consists of an 8-piece ensemble – comprised of individuals that were possibly as diverse as their fans standing before them. On the quaint Horseshoe Tavern stage, each member of the band had their moments in the spotlight. I enjoyed how this ensemble rather evenly shared time at the front of the stage. I also liked how they chose to scatter the introduction of band members throughout the set. It seemed to properly allow each person their moment to shine even more. Co-lead vocalist Allen Tate has an incredible presence and energy about him. I can’t help but liken his voice to The National’s Matt Berninger and ponder what that was like when San Fermin opened for The National on tour. Tate’s vocals beautifully intertwine, offset and compliment his co-lead vocalist Charlene Kaye. The two perform with a passion that pulls in the crowd in and keeps them hooked. So hooked in fact that some very excited fans standing/dancing near me filmed most of it while simultaneously singing, screaming, and dancing around. I do appreciate their enthusiasm and joy for the music (and I am all for snapping photos of your fave band in action) however, I’m always be a tad judgmental when fans film large portions of shows. The quality of an iphone video is great, sure, but I can’t help but constantly wonder – are you ever going to watch that again? Or are you probably going to watch better quality live clips on youtube? Simply put your phone down and allow yourself to see them through your eyes instead of your iphone screen, please and thank-you.
Throughout the show I was also struck by how the lead singers harmonized oh so beautifully with violinist/vocalist Rebekhah Durham. I am a huge fan of well-incorporated violin and brass instruments – and San Fermin is definitely a band that delivers on that front. Their set was varied, and they mixed crowd favorites like “Sonsick” and “Jackrabbit” throughout– it kept the energy and excitement up for the hour or so duration of their set. I also really appreciate it when a band does not end their set/encore with their biggest single. It keeps me guessing which I do very much enjoy. Their encore was short and sweet and a perfect end to a delightful evening.
San Fermin knows how to perform and put on an extremely fun and engaging show – for both those familiar and less familiar with their music. Where they will go from here, I have no idea but I look forward to the next opportunity I get to see them live.