bar italia Came to Life in Toronto

Velvet Underground, December 8

With Prince Josh

Photo: Stephen McGill

BY Anthony BoirePublished Dec 10, 2023

bar italia came through the Velvet Underground last night and enraptured the sold-out crowd, packing their distinctive sideways sensibility into the small venue. It was the UK band's first time coming through Toronto since their inception in 2020, and opener Prince Josh came along for the ride; He set the scene perfectly, delivering his trademark trip-hop sound and setting the scene for bar italia's wonky post-punk. 

The band — Nina Cristante, Sam Fenton and Jezmi Fehmi — have had a banner year, first releasing their hypnotic third album Tracey Denim before dropping the gritty, overdrive-soaked The Twits this fall. Each of their songs is driven by some combination of subdued, explosive and snarling performances, and the prep school internet age rockers have a deep well of vastly different tunes in their still young discography. 

Slow burns like Tracey Denim's fantastic "my kiss era" sit side-by-side with immediate, heavy bangers, like The Twits' "my little tony." Despite the variance in energy song to song, Cristante, Fenton and Fehmi know when to lean into the yowling grit at just the right moment. The trio's vocal performances, often characterized as dry and detached on record, come across desperate and pleading when sung to a stunned audience. The one-two punch of "Nurse!" flailing right into "world's greatest emoter" was a masterclass in setlist craft, pulling the crowd close for the familiar, wandering Denim opener before sending them into a frenzy for the massive, heartbreaking performances on The Twits' highlight. 

Both the fiery and subdued tracks benefited deeply from the live drums and rumbling bass, the booming rhythm section giving the dueling Orange Stack-amplified guitars room to squeal. Fenton and Fehmi flanked Cristante with their touring members skulking behind, basked in blue as their howling guitars slowly creaked into each other's feedback. Cristante herself alternated between whapping her tambourine and shimmying, coiled and waiting for her moment to strike with her acerbic delivery. The real show-stopping moment occurred midway through "world's greatest emoter" when Nina cooed, "Always feeling like there's something wrong / and you're just trying to catch me / trying to catch a sense of what I want" — The vibe is apocalyptic and tense but effortlessly cool. When these UK rock revivalists start to groove and growl, they mean it. 

It's a feat to watch a band barely utter a word to their packed crowd, but still totally command them. After closing their set with a decidedly mournful take on "glory hunter," they hurried off-stage, entirely confident the crowd would call out for an encore. Despite one concertgoer shouting for "rage quit," the forty-nine second reverb-soaked fan favourite from 2021's bedhead, they instead capped off the rapturous evening with two of their first releases, "Miracle Crush" and "skylinny." It was a payoff for early fans of the band, who'd been patiently waiting for the bizarre band-out-of-time to finally come to Canada. 

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