Live Review

Bar Italia at Black Bear Lodge

When it comes to international tours, Brisbane always seems to get shafted. Shows are often scheduled midweek, when, already exhausted from work, the thought of a late night and the following early morning make venturing out rather unappealing. Of course, once you are actually out, beer in hand and vibing the energy of the expectant crowd, all these trepidations disappear. Bar Italia’s debut Australian tour warrants the effort, even on a particularly chilly night, with the much hyped group performing to a packed house at Black Bear Lodge and supported by Brisbane’s queen of dehydrated disco, Scraps.

It was an unexpected but pleasant surprise to see Scraps on the bill. Their heavily electro-fied pop was a perfect foil to Bar Italia’s androgynous meld of indie rock. Scraps’ table of synths and effects are a daunting sight, but to see them work them so intuitively, hovering over them like an electronic puppet master, is always impressive. Plus, no matter how many times I hear it, Hot Sauce is nothing short of mesmerising.

Bar Italia’s members Nina Cristante, Sam Fenton and Jezmi Fehmi, joined by touring bassist Emilie Plamelund and drummer Liam Toon, took the stage just after 9pm to the sound of Axel F by Crazy Frog. There are no formalities, and the band launch straight into Calm Down With Me, off of their most recent album The Twits. Notably, for the duration of the set there is minimal interaction with the crowd. In the past the group have acknowledged that this is because they are all somewhat shy, and though some may consider it a detractor, it in no way minimised the impact of their performance.

Calm Down With Me, Real House Wibes (Desperate House Vibes), Twist and Jelsy off The Twits and My Kiss Era off Tracey Denim allowed the group to set the vibe and build some tension, before unleashing the beast with a suite of high-octane songs including Brush W Faith, Punkt and Changer. Unfortunately, despite releasing The Tw*ts EP the same day, they did not play Sounds Like You Had To Be There, the last song on the EP and my favourite Bar Italia track.

World’s Greatest Emoter provided a powerful ending to the first set, before the band returned to the stage for a three song encore of Missus Morality, Friends & Skylinny. Again, these songs reached heights not heard in the recorded versions which prioritised a lo-fi sound more evocative of the group’s mysterious origins. On stage there was no need for obfuscation and it was great to see the band interact with each other, laughing and joking between songs, ahead of a change in tempo or before shifting chord progressions.

One cannot help but feel lucky seeing a group like Bar Italia in a venue like Black Bear Lodge. Small venues allow for an increased sense of camaraderie between band and audience,  amplifying the intensity and illuminating intricacies which can be lost in larger spaces. Inevitably, Bar Italia will continue to attract larger audiences as the world catches up with their unique blend of indie, lo-fi and post-punk, making gigs like tonight memorable for showcasing an up and coming group on the crest of major success.

Words by Nick Stephan

Photo by P Squared


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