Just what the doctor ordered after a heavy weekend
Well, well well. We meet again, Sunday evening. The fish place has run out of mackerel buns. We’re all a bit sad and tired, smelly and dehydrated, squinting through suncream smears at real beds and flushing toilets beckoning us on the horizon, slowly accepting that reality has breached the fringes of this immersive woodland sojourn. Of course, it’s not the end until it’s the end, and there’s still a fork in the road up ahead. We have to choose between Ezra Furman and King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, the scheduling conflict that’s been haunting the final page of the clash finder all weekend. Before that decision needs to be made, however, it’s time to drink up London’s worst-kept secret, Bar Italia, in the Big Top tent.
The operative word when referring to Bar Italia’s sound tends to be ‘gloomy’ or ‘moody’. That’s not incorrect, but they also sound unexpectedly light and direct, especially on tracks such as ‘Friends’, which almost gets a smile out of the band and definitely does out of everyone watching. The ‘moody’ label might well originate from the way in which the fivesome charges through songs that are barely two minutes long – 16 in an hour, including pretty much the entirety of their 2023 Matador debut Tracey Denim – ending each one abruptly and without a word to the cheering punters.
Indeed, halfway through, co-guitarist/co-vocalist Jezmi Fehmi tests his mic level with a staccato grunt – “Ugh!” – eliciting a scattering of laughs. “That’s the first thing they’ve said to us yet,” smirks a man in front of me. (It’s also the last.) But we don’t care. We’ve been at this for four days straight, contending with slug kings and horse lords, late nights and early starts; transactional indie rock at the 11th hour is like lip balm for our cracked, End Of The Road-worn brains and ears and, well, lips as well.
The band are led by three vocalists. There’s the central figure, Nina Cristante, whose soothing stage presence and pointed enunciation are alluring and will no doubt draw droves of eye-rolling comparisons to other guitar-backed female vocalists, such as this one: she kinda reminds me of Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval. Flanking her are Fehmi and Sam Fenton, the former a yeller, the latter a whisperer. Whether from nerves, nascence, or nonchalance (perhaps all of the above), all three are delightfully off-key in the way that many of the great ’90s bands were, but these contrasting approaches further a sense of dynamism and energy, as do the counterpointing guitars, which finish one another’s melodic sentences in a way we’ve heard before but are happy to hear again. (The Yo La Tengo and Pavement shirts speckled throughout the crowd further elucidate the contents of the band members’ record collections.)
There’s a sense that we’ll be seeing increasingly honed iterations of Bar Italia over the coming years. They’ve already proved a worthy and apt addition to Matador’s growing subset of young signees – see also: Horsegirl and Lifeguard – and their music is far more than a tour through the greatest hits of the label’s back catalogue. Sure, the live set needs refining: some more thoughtful transitions between songs in place of awkward pauses; more of a focused aesthetic; more of an indication that they wanna be here. But it’s early days, and the same criticisms were levelled against Pavement.