Bar Italia – Neck Of The Woods: June 2, 2024 (Concert Review)

Bar Italia are a three-piece band from London, though Nina Cristante – vocals is originally from Rome, Sam Fenton – vocals/guitar and Jezmi Fehmi – vocals/guitar who take their name from the café in Soho called Bar Italia, not the Pulp song about the café.

Around 2019 they got together, released two albums, a skew of singles, and survived the COVID years. They made the ‘band to watch’ lists in 2023 for The Times, Face and Crack, which I suspect they only had disdain for, and recently played SXSW. Last year they released two albums on the prestigious Matador label, Tracey Denim in May and The Twits in November, to pretty positive reviews and a bit of indie chart success.

Honestly, never fuckin’ heard of them until their show in Tamaki Makaurau was announced, and so I checked ‘em out on Spotify. And while it may seem odd to release two albums so quickly, the two exude quite different personalities, which piqued interest in seeing the band in the flesh.

Lilly Carron

Lilly CarronMuriwai homed, picked up for development by Sony Records based on a recording made for friends and family in 2019, she has released two EPs, 2020’s Messy Mind and 2023’s And The Clouds Came Undone.

She’s been touched by the hands of the 95bFM tastemaker, and while Wild for Change is the bFM Top 10npick, it is with a far superior track – Ease she starts her eight-song set tonight. Onstage it’s just her and a guitarist looking like something from the 80s, it’s the rolled-up suit sleeves, open white shirt and high-slung guitar.

Sounding tonight somewhere between (or betwixt) Julie Cruise and Stevie Nicks, being restricted to voice and guitar, lacking the somewhat easy-listening jazz sound bed, it’s not an endearing way to see and hear Lilly Carron live for the first time.

Lilly Carron’s voice is undeniably dynamic, her singing is well-textured and well-developed. full of wellness, (probably thanks to Sony cash) but it all feels like Jazz by crystal-candle-light, like the bar seen in the movie Lost in Translation It feels endemic of the malaise of conservatism that has swept Aotearoa in recent years. I fear that maybe she’ll end up another safe bet like Brooke Fraser/Hayley Westenra, rather than another change-maker like Aldous Harding/Nadia Reid.

Bar Italia

Neck of the Woods is full of the young and heartless, dressed to impress, there is a healthy contingent of the last generation, still grasping for a last high, and a buzz of anticipation in the room.

Bar ItaliaIt’s five onstage, joining Nina, Sam Fenton and Jezmi onstage are (and I think this is right) touring bassist Emilie Palmelund and drummer Liam Toon. Kicking off with Calm Down With Me from their latest album The Twits, Bar Italia are already displaying their off-kilter-angst vocal and musical style, sometimes it can be off-putting, hearing strained or out-of-key singing and guitars on stage, but I think they were marking their territory. And certainly the next tune My Little Tony creates havoc amongst the fashionista, front and center, as fury is fomented on the dancefloor.

With three vocalists upfront, there is a sense of fluidity, the two guys look like cast members from The Inbetweeners, while Nina could be a waitress in a (high-end) cocktail bar, or in THAT Robert Palmer video. The dynamics of the interplays between them are reminiscent of Roland S Howard & Lydia Lunch, Nancy & Lee and perhaps even KIm & Thurston; it’s imperfect, but with the intentional imperfection in the music, it all blends into dovetails throughout the night.

Onstage Cristante is a real mover in that 90’s crooner disinterested style, then again the two on guitar can also bust a couple of moves, when songs offer heaviness. Their brit accents go down a treat, but aloofness is there, and there is very little connection with the audience, perhaps the jetlag is pronounced, as Tamaki Makauarau is their first show of the Australasian tour.

My Kiss Era from the May 2023 album Tracey Denim, dampens momentum in the room, this juxtaposition illustrates the complexity of the band’s sound. Ardent about not being put in a box, Bar Italia nevertheless exudes/draws down on the past: goth, post-punk and shoegaze. In the tradition of UK Indie bands from The Vaccines / Crime And City Solution / Clientele / Dry Cleaning that revel in pastiche, while feigning disinterest in nostalgia.

Bar Italia

Coming to a Bar Italia show musically-versed is a necessity, as, as the night lengthened, some songs did have the temerity to meld together, and the purposeful off-kilter singing and song playing at times knocked the listener back from the moment to reality. To be blunt, as the night headed towards a hoped (and given) encore (after expected songs like Punkt and Polly Armour were played) I was disappointed in how weak Nina Cristante‘s vocals sounded, it wasn’t just being too low in the mix, and I was already familiar with her off-kilter style, again, perhaps the jetlag was to be blamed, as there seemed too much blase in her delivery.

The faithful were in amore, Bar Italia seemed sated, and I still wanted to get The Twits album on vinyl,

Simon Coffey

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Michael Jeong:

Bar Italia:

Lilly Carron:

Bar Italia Setlist:

Calm Down With Me

My Little Tony

Rage Quit

Real House Wibes

My Kiss Era



Brush with Faith




Glory Hunter

Polly Armour

World’s Greatest


Missus Morality