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‘bar italia’ flourishes at Brighton Music Hall

February 21, 2024

Written by Lauren Albano

Locals lined up and filtered into the cozy Brighton Music Hall, escaping an extra chilly evening on Tuesday, December 8, 2023 where London-based rock band bar italia was set to take the stage.

bar italia is composed of Nina Cristante, Sam Fenton, and Jezmi Tarik Fehmi. The group is touring their second album since signing with Matador Records in March 2023, The Twits.

I arrived 30 minutes to eight, wandering the green-lit venue, watching people mingle. I found myself a spot close to the stage, and the lights dimmed to a blue as opening act, musician Gobby, silently came onstage.

The hooded figure had the crowd in a chokehold as he began to fill the room with an ethereal electronic cascade. The continuous, half-hour composition of repeated crescendos made skin crawl. As my body filled with his musical vibrations, couples embraced each other all around.

Gobby mysteriously stood up and walked off without a word, prompting a hesitant goodbye applaud as his final beats died down. It was in these moments that I looked around and noticed that the crowd’s mass had swelled and pushed towards the stage.

Anticipation grew and grew, and we were finally gratified with the casual albeit heavily applauded entrance of bar italia themselves. The lights faded to a bright red upon their entrance, and the band kicked off their set with their catchy 2022 single “Polly Armour,” followed by the mystifying “calm down with me” from The Twits.

The band’s third song of the night sold me on them: “my little tony.” Cristante was feeling herself on the stage, Fenton’s vocals at the end of the chorus (“And you go, I waited for you”) were full of passion, and Fehmi’s deep, gravelly voice added welcoming punk elements to the performance.

“punkt” was another addition to the setlist that received cheers from the crowd as bar italia began to play it. Fans sang along with Fehmi’s deep pre-chorus part. His vocals are reminiscent of Julian Casablancas from The Strokes, with a rough strain that rounds out the group and is much appreciated.

The even utilization of each of the three members’ voices is particularly impressive. Cristante may appear as the lead singer, but she shares the wealth with Fenton and Fehmi, tapping along to a tambourine for some tunes, dancing onstage and enjoying herself. I particularly enjoy that no one’s talent fades into the background, and every voice is included in nearly every song.

This was showcased in “my kiss era,” where the three bar italia members sang the chorus in transcendent unison. Someone in the audience yelled “That was beautiful,” when the lovely guitar outro concluded, receiving a wide smile from Fenton in return. The support continued, with several “We love you Ninas” being shouted too.

The fan presence was felt that night, and the band showed their comfortability with the crowd. After the slow sentimental song “sounds like you had to be there,” someone called out, “Play in Australia; we’re waiting for you!” Fenton told them to keep waiting.

This was the only thing spoken by the band during their set. I was curious about the lack of audience interaction given the longer pauses between songs, not even a “Hello Boston.”

In an interview with Phillip Pyle for 032c magazine, Fehmi said they’re “quite shy,” and the band admitted they haven’t been great at bantering with their audience. Cristante continued, “We just need to get tighter between the songs and then people won’t even notice. There’s no intended awkward silence, it just happens.”

The tone was brought back to a high with the upbeat “worlds greatest emoter,” and Cristante received cheers as she jumped to Fenton’s verse. The band brought it back down with the cool “Jelsy,” but the crowd was constantly bobbing their heads to the beat, tapping their feet in rhythm. The band had them entranced.

Several technical adjustments were made between songs, from lighting fixes to volume adjustments on various microphones. I saw this as an added element of intimacy to the night. It was as though we were let in on bar italia’s private sound check, watching them fine-tune themselves as the set progressed, making each performance better and more unique than even the first listen to their studio recordings.

The band concluded their set with “glory hunter,” and the room erupted in applause as they thanked the crowd and walked offstage, only to, after what is probably the most believable fake exit I’ve ever seen, return for an encore. The crowd genuinely thought it was over and began to disperse, but they immediately rushed back towards the stage.

The band brought the show to a definitive end two songs later, receiving even more cheers. Overall, bar italia filled Brighton Music Hall not only with genuine, devoted fans, but also with a warm, intimate atmosphere that made for an unforgettable night of music. I’m looking forward to seeing how they grow as performers and where their evolving career takes them.

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