The unknown can be intimidating when you’re facing it alone. On a Tuesday in June, the unknown was the backyard of TV Eye on a weeknight for the first show of Bar Italia’s sold-out, five-day New York residency. I had made no assumptions prior to this performance. I had no reviews, no interviews, and only a handful of intentionally vague images to guide me through. It was hard for me to match whatever low-grade apathy emanated from the back patio as I was gleefully anticipating hearing one of my new favorite albums live. Since their release of Tracey Denim, Bar Italia has quickly become the forefront of inspiration and the soundtrack to almost everything I do. The music is versatile in its coolness. Listen on your headphones to seek out the glamorous anonymity of urban life, or at a party to definitely seem cool to your peers. No matter the setting, I’ve found myself choosing Tracey Denim over and over again because of its rigid differences that make it feel both singular and wide at the same time.
The tiered benches that hug the walls of the patio reminded me of gym bleachers. I found an empty space in the back corner, perfect for staring. Everyone came dressed matching the album cover. There was barely a bright color to catch your eye—instead, gray, black, and a spectrum of neutrals painted baggy clothes with edgy cuts. It felt like unofficial band merchandise. Nobody here would be caught dead in a Bar Italia t-shirt, instead alluding to the band’s aesthetics to show their worship. Upon listening to their music, there is a need to blend in with their world. It is no coincidence that I saw the band members within the crowd, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes just like everyone else, blurring the lines between where their culture starts and where ours begins. I began twirling my hair like I was trying to look busy after being picked last for gym. As people mingled, I wondered if I could draw a lineage of friendships, connecting everyone here.
The main hall of TV Eye was sparsely populated when Font, the opener for Bar Italia, began to play. I easily floated to the front corner to watch them come in with strength. Stepping with drums and synth first, they sounded both upbeat and off-kilter. I wondered if they were also British–it's becoming increasingly harder to tell as British style bleeds stateside. Font had two percussionists, one on a regular drum kit and one standing to the side with cymbals, wood blocks, bongos, and a tambourine. The group leaned heavily on the synth, even using sampling at times to give a uniquely chaotic sound. I was on the edge of my seat trying to guess if they were British as they had yet to say a word, fading from a fast song to a slow melodic tune without so much as a beat in between. The percussionist put his cymbal on top of his snare drum for a tighter chime for their more traditionally structured songs. Font came to prove that they were different from the usual group of five white men in the indie post-punk set. They are innovative in their own right and clearly trying their best to be subversive. I was surprised to see that Font only has one piece of released music, adding to the unknowing airs of the night. Before the last song, the frontman thanked the crowd. They were American after all.
After I had been waiting in the crowded ballroom for a few minutes too long, the red velvet curtains drew back and revealed the Bar Italia three-piece and their band. They played their second song, “Punkt,” one of their popular singles, catching the crowd’s attention early. They exuded a certain Brit-cool that young Americans pine for but can never achieve. Maybe it’s our drinking water. Their vocals braided together: equal parts meek, brute, and sexy. Having three leaders has made for a satisfying structure to each song. You are taken through three different directions, and three different emotions, all within the safety of the foggy bass and guitar. Even with a packed room staring right at them, the band seldom looked up or acknowledged the people in front of them. The lead singer, Nina Cristante, gazed straight beyond the crowd while delivering the waxes and wanes of her verses. The bouncy guitar riffs did not have the same power live as they did in the recordings. Instead, I felt the low notes of the bass shine through. The lyrics are generally about the social gymnastics of a breakup and trying to proceed through it all even when you don’t particularly want to. However personal the subject matter may be, Bar Italia was not performing to be heard emotionally. In fact, they seemed to perform a flippancy to their own struggles, using music as a diary and a defense at the same time.
I do not think I will remember this performance for its showmanship but for its mysticism. After being in the same room as them, I still struggle to know who they are. But do I need to? More and more, independent musicians must also be self-marketers in order to gain a listening ear. Maybe this gives more value to the unknown, driving crowds to come see for themselves, like a treasured memory that you can only recount verbally.
Right after Bar Italia played their last note, they scurried off the stage like children at a dance recital. I knew they were not the band to do an encore, so I made an exit back to the patio. I left unsure if I had gained any further knowledge on Bar Italia, or if I just fell deeper into their self-made mystery. They effortlessly hold up their own veil, showing that the love for an artist and their art can be blind. Maybe this search for getting to truly know the artist is not necessary to admire them. Maybe the admiration comes because you don’t know everything.