Concert Review

Concert Review: Bar Italia

Often, the bands we like are located far away. 

When the opportunity arises to see a band on their first journey to your city, you take it. This was my experience with Bar Italia; upon hearing of the London-based band’s most recent tour, which included their first ever show in the Triangle (at Motorco in Durham), I had to buy a ticket. It was non-negotiable, and soon, very exciting; I was finally going to be able to see a European band that I had prayed would come to the South (many such cases). 

Soon enough, the day came. While I was taking a moment outside, I watched as large numbers of fans began to trickle into the venue. Many were dressed in typical indie garb that you’d expect from a rock show of this sort. Interestingly, many people seemed to mirror Bar Italia’s slick British style; I counted a number of mod haircuts, Britpop-y normcore fits, and pointedly English dress trends that would normally fly well under the radar in North Carolina. It was fascinating to see, as I could tell that these people were obviously big fans of the band.

The opener, named Great Area, began soon enough. Beforehand, nobody seemed to be aware of who the opener was- or what their sound was like- which made for a pleasant surprise. It was one person, assumedly also from Britain, with a backing track and a background projector, singing in an almost impressively deadpan style against hypnotic, retro electronic beats that captured the essence of a midnight ride through the streets of London.

The moody aesthetics and attitude were at the forefront, with the visuals featuring esoteric flashes of urban landscapes, dated tech advertisements, and loose snippets of pop culture edited seamlessly to go along with the music. Great Area stood completely still and stared ahead as they sang each of the songs in order. It was not a long set, but a perfect appetizer to begin a night of London scene vibes. 

However, the momentum of the night was interrupted by a nearly hour-long wait until Bar Italia came on.

The crowd began to stir around thirty minutes after Great Area walked off stage. According to an anonymous source, Bar Italia had requested that the Beatles be played as the venue’s background music in between sets and during both artists’ setup times. I overheard crowd goers making mock bets as to what Beatles song would come next, and I’ve never heard more discussion about the Beatles in years. The slightest sense of tension arose in the air, and every time the door to the back room opened, much of the crowd would stare, hoping for the band to come out. There were a few whispers that the band could have canceled, or that something went wrong last minute. Fortunately, this was not the case.

The frustration nearly hit its peak by the time Bar Italia finally arose from backstage, to thunderous, relieved applause. Without an introduction, they began.

The set consisted mostly of album tracks from their most recent full-length release, The Twits, which was met with generally positive emotions from the crowd. Highlights included the raucous “my little tony” and “worlds greatest emoter”, which got the crowd moving in the first phases of the set. Tracks from their previous album- which also came out last year- Tracey Denim, were welcomed with notably more cheering and singalongs than the newer songs, but this could be primarily because the singles from “Tracey” were played. Nonetheless, the crowd was entranced all the way through; however, it was apparent that some fatigue from the wait time in between sets lingered on people. The band also played a couple older loose singles that are popular amongst fans, to much praise.

Bar Italia present themselves as a three-piece, with two guitarists and a vocalist. For the performance, they added a touring drummer and bassist (special props to the drummer, who absolutely killed it). With this being said, the live sound was much different from their studio sound. This is mainly due to the fact that none of the programmed drums, synths, and strings present in the studio tracks were accommodated for in the live set. I saw this as a good thing, as they were able to turn up the garagey-ness of their act, and the clear and concise distortion and raucousness made for an enthralling, true-blue rock and roll performance.

For better or worse, the atmosphere of their performance was not as, well, atmospheric as the opener. The main stage lights were on the entire time, leaving the band in complete view from the audience. There were no background projections. This could definitely be a positive, as it was easy to see everyone and what they were playing. It lent a bit of intimacy and casualness to the performance, and made it feel as if they were a local band playing for a local crowd. 

Despite a couple minor shortcomings, the show was excellent, and the set ran just long enough. Bar Italia played extremely tight, without missing a beat, and the excitement of seeing a cult favorite band for the first time clearly resonated with everyone in attendance. Everyone seemed to leave satisfied, albeit perhaps with newfound opinions on the Beatles.

-Mike Utt

Concert Review

Concert Review: Greg Mendez

Valentine’s Day is a day of reflection. We reflect on the people in our life that we love, have loved, and will love. Stories of varied pasts are brought to mind, and we reflect on the stories we will make in the future with our favorite people. In the thick air of this sentimentality, I could not think of a more suitable act to see on this contemplative day than Greg Mendez.

A stalwart member of Philadelphia’s indie music scene, Greg Mendez’s singer-songwriter style music is marked with acoustic instrumentation, effective melodies, and thick emotions that lend themselves to an atmosphere which gladly accommodates a variety of feelings for a variety of audiences. Like many singer-songwriters in his category, and with his autobiographical and acutely personal songwriting, Greg’s music draws obvious comparisons to Elliott Smith; however, a deep dive is not necessary to find that he has carved out his own immediately recognizable niche.

Arriving at the entrance to the Cat’s Cradle Back Room, I noticed Greg at a short distance, partially obscured, treating himself to a quiet moment during the final moments of the opening act’s performance. This is when I immediately understood that this set would be an intimately nuanced evening. 

As he and his partner walked on stage, one could sense Greg’s nervousness about beginning his performance, and the handful of attentive members of the (still somewhat chatty) crowd held respectful consideration for his hesitation. After some supportive pats on the back from his partner who joined him on stage, Greg picked up his acoustic guitar, found his seat, and with his head down, prepared to present his experience in the lusciousness and pain of life.

A hush promptly fell over the crowd as he started playing, intuitively, without an introductory word or notice. 

The personal and dramatic energy of the narratives told in his songs were, unlike many similar artists, not lost in the allure of live performance. In fact, the connection to Greg’s lived reality felt viscerally tangible. The emotions were raw, and you could almost physically feel them coursing through the audience in waves. The notes of Greg and his partner’s deeply fervent and stunning harmonies pulsed throughout the space, making it unbearable to even consider looking away. In the fleeting moments between the ends of Greg’s songs and the passionate applause of the audience, I’ve never felt more deafening silence come from so many people.

As the set progressed, Greg quickly became more comfortable with his stage presence, quietly riffing on “thank you” and “you’re welcome” with audience members between songs. The tone of the performance may have slightly loosened, but the sense of admiration from the people in the crowd never remotely faltered, and the songs felt as impassioned as they did from the start.

Greg never skipped a beat, never had a crack in his voice, and always stayed true to the songs. During “Rev. John”, the half-opener to his self-titled album, I at first thought that Greg was playing the organ melody from a mysterious backing track because of how thoroughly identical it sounded to the studio recording. Peeking over the heads of the audience, however, I was surprised to see that Greg was hunched over his keyboard, playing the melody himself. The guitar parts throughout the set were just as eerily accurate to the studio versions as well, despite the lack of some of the additional instrumentation found on the album.

At the end, I walked outside on an emotional high, truly unable to come to terms with the fact that the set was already over.

Considering the straightforwardness and minimalism of the music, it was an unbelievably outstanding performance. I have never experienced such sensitive, intuitional power come from a single artist and his supporting musician as I did that night. 

Our daily love is rarely as evident as it was on Valentine’s Day at the Cat’s Cradle. 

Band/Artist Profile

Classic Band Spotlight: Polyrock

Chances are, you’re aware of the music scene in 1970s New York City. 

You’re likely aware of the rise of punk rock, new wave, and hip-hop that marked the city with critical attention. You may even know about no wave, a vital development that quietly influenced scores of artists working across genres for generations to come.

However, you may or may not be aware of one New York band who slipped under the radar of the national spotlight, and unfortunately, many of the history articles that have saturated the realm of music journalism: Polyrock.

Formed in New York in 1978 and led by frontman/guitarist Billy Robertson, Polyrock was arguably one of the first bands (at least on this side of the Atlantic) to introduce a pattern-based, sharply-angled take on the guitar music of the time, and to capitalize on the sensibilities which would soon become commonplace in the artier side of the growing post-punk and new wave movements.

However, a crucial component to the alluring story of this band is the fact that they had excellent help: production and composition assistance from none other than minimalism pioneer Philip Glass. In fact, Glass appears as a musician on their first two albums.

The influence of Glass’s school of minimalism is evident, as the repetitive motions of Polyrock’s music create a hypnotic atmosphere not dissimilar from the music in Glass’s own catalog. Evidence of Krautrock influence is also present; you can hear rhythms and sonic ideas initiated by CAN or Faust throughout Polyrock’s work, making them one of the first bands to draw these influences into the growing indie rock landscape.

The captivating layering of minimalism and rock is truly sublime, and extremely ahead of its era; similar moments and musical quotations have popped up in music decades later, in bands such as Stereolab or Osees.

Polyrock’s debut self-titled 1980 LP, though somewhat inflexible at times, nonetheless presents a worldly, justifiable cohesion found in similar projects of the era.

The chaos is vivid, and the noise is visceral; however, the rhythms are nearly club-ready, and the motorik drumming cuts through the auditory clutter like a hot knife. The fun, sharp beats pull you down into songs you may otherwise feel lost or overwhelmed in. 

Polyrock is, of course, not the only group of their era to play around with this dichotomy. While often compared to New York scene brethren Talking Heads, a more apt comparison to the deeply neurotic, rigid grooves would be DEVO, or perhaps Suburban Lawns. 

Their second album, “Changing Hearts”, was released in 1981 and provides a very similar backbone, with slightly diluted experimentalism. it still takes into account the lessons learned from the first Glass collaboration, but manages to successfully branch out and tone down thoughtfully. The danceable grooves remain, and the band’s formula is not left behind. However, slight moves are taken to improve the accessibility of the work; fortunately, it is apparent that these moves are not to the detriment of the album’s creative value.

For a low-key sophomore effort, it’s pleasantly surprising, and just as interesting as the band’s debut.

Polyrock was met with critical acclaim, and over time, their artistic space has become more and more revisited. However, as angular art rock pioneers, and considering their early toe-dipping into minimalism, they deserve vastly more credit for their work than they’ve received.

Watch the video for “Romantic Me” here.

Concert Review

A Non-Fan’s Review of the julie Concert

On a Monday night, I stood at the edge of the moshpit- the event horizon, my body delineating physical security to those behind me- a perfect location from which to drink in the atmosphere and peruse the faces of fellow young people as they melted into the ferocious wall of noise and flesh they were so vivaciously facing. Guitars shrieked, people thrashed, the room got darker, the walls closed in, and the sea of hair and sweat rose, and rose, and rose…

Then, in a shocking moment of clarity, I realized: I hardly know this band.

Well, they’re called julie- with a lowercase “j”- and they rocked. Despite their recent clout (approaching 28 million streams on their first single, and a few others creeping towards ten), despite their student radio buzz, and despite their October 30 gig at Kings selling out shockingly quickly, I didn’t go into the show knowing exactly what to expect. I’d heard of them… but never properly heard them.

A friend of mine got a ticket before they sold out, and after I was offered an extremely last-minute ticket (I sent the money during class the same day), I decided to ride along. 

It was the right decision.

Like a bunch of new-generation artists, julie’s Spotify discography is notably short. Since 2020, they have released four singles and a six-track EP clocking in at a combined thirty-five minutes, making for interesting expectations going into the show.  It’s natural to survey your thoughts before walking into a concert, and I certainly did; how long was the set going to be? How will they fill the space? Will they play every song?

While I can’t say which songs they played, and as such I can’t tell you if they played everything they had on Spotify, their set was nonetheless fantastic. The energy was raw, the emotions were real (and validated by the audience, who, by the way, were pretty exclusively around college age), and the playing was tight. 

There’s three musicians in julie, and despite being a trio, they managed to bring an enviable sonic fullness and delightfully looming stage presence to bat. Their music is done in a ragged grunge-esque style; they take momentous distortion and occasional bouts of atonality and whip up thematically and texturally rich (and addictive) tunes which didn’t fail to cause a stir at the gig.

Their angsty, dark aesthetics did not go unnoticed; the band’s artistic sensibilities played into the music seamlessly, and these sensibilities were not challenging to pick up on. The bassist/lead vocalist brought the popular nu-gaze, Gen-Z-grunge rotten-doll aesthetic to the forefront, channeling heavy Kim Gordon vibes with her twisted yet on-the-nose vocal performance and rock-solid bass duties.

The guitarist spun distorted melodies and executed beautiful intermissions with ease (and sung wonderfully too), and the drummer (seemingly a budding Zach Hill fan) kept things impeccably tight throughout, with brief yet effective solos that complemented and magnified the band’s loving harshness.

On the topic of noise; julie were very noisy. In between many of their songs were intermissions of beautiful, pedal-y feedback, mainly led by the guitarist and the bassist. Song outros were added, extended, amplified and experimented with in real time. The huge walls of din and moments of electronic sampling managed by the bassist added needed tension to the relative sameness of the set and contributed to the band’s readily apparent dark aesthetic.

Herein lies my sole complaint.

As a non-fan (and this goes for almost any artist with a cohesive sound, really), I began to notice something. Recall how I noted their short discography? The set was, ultimately, long. Surprisingly long. I believe it went close to if not over an hour.

While this could be passed off as artistically valid fan service- and to be fair, I did find it pretty impressive- I found that many of the songs began to blend together, with similar tempos and vocal lines, and dynamics that were roughly the same throughout the set.

The band did make an effort to separate their tracks, and to provide periods of rest (hence the aforementioned “intermissions”), but I very occasionally found my interest in the music towards the end of the set faltering at certain points. These feelings were far from the norm, but I did leave the venue with them in the back of my head.

My friend at the show mentioned that this issue could be the effect of having a discography consisting largely of singles, as opposed to album tracks that ebb and flow. But hey, I’m not a dedicated fan, so what do I know; pretty much everyone else there seemed like they’d disagree with me.

Ultimately, I’m super glad I went. The opener was killer (a fresher band by the name Deux Visages), presenting much hookier and marginally more accessible songs compared to julie, while maintaining a similar aesthetic. They had a charming (and far from offputting) air of inexperience, but still played excellently. It was the perfect opener for a more esoteric, darker lead act, and provided the perfect appetizer for what was to come. I left the show satisfied; it’s one of those sets where it leaves you curious for what the future holds for an artist. julie is a band to watch for sure.

Next time, I’ll do my homework.

-Mike Utt

Band/Artist Profile

Track Review: “my little tony” by bar italia

bar italia are going back to the garage.

For those unfamiliar, bar italia is a London, England-based band specializing in their own brand of moody, off-kilter and charmingly experimental guitar alt-pop. It’s hard to square them into a genre, but the ol’ reliable “post-punk” label may be a half-decent signifier for curious ears.

Recently, bar italia released their newest single, “my little tony”.

“my little tony” is the first single from their newly announced upcoming album, entitled The Twits (releasing November 3rd on Matador Records). “tony” throws aside the slick, dynamically matured and produced sound of their previous release, “Tracey Denim”, in favor of a surprisingly raucous sound and rawer sensibility. 

It’s a tune that rambles as much as it roars. 

Things kick off immediately upon hitting play. Guitars- already around peak volume- charge in, blended together with the delightfully distorted bassline in a thick soup of rock-and-roll bliss. The chords are a bit muddled in the cacophony, but not enough to warrant concern. It’s fun.

Nina Cristante’s playful and smoothly mocking vocals follow almost immediately; “your pretentious ways… make me die a little,” she sings, humbling an ambiguous subject (Tony? Is that you?). The rest of her first verse continues in a similar fashion, and her refrain “keep playing with my receiving hand… ‘cause you know you lost the game” plays well after the home-run hook that gets laid down by the band. Things repeat and continue.

The brief instrumental towards the end of the song provides a fleeting break from the loopy structure, but when the refrain begins again, you find yourself feeling as though there are perhaps adjectives besides “loopy” that better characterize the continual nature of the track. Maybe “awesome” is a better word. Or perhaps you’re too busy tapping your foot to care.

The track ends the same way it began: without apology.

Alternating between spaced-out, delightfully dusty yet infectious late-night-walk-home rock and lushly charged indie that nears a description of anthemic, bar italia’s last album “Tracey Denim” was a hooky, thoughtfully produced crop of moody bangers. Things seem to change with “my little tony”; whereas “Tracey Denim” recalled the darker, more geometric songwriting of early-2000s Pinback or Interpol, “tony” harkens back more so to loosely spun garage influences of the same era.

The band retains its edge and recognizability with their simple, catchy vocal lines and hallmark London aesthetics, and despite its heavy strumminess, the track fortunately manages to avoid straying too close to the unforgiving gravitational pull of the (arguably) overly revivalist (and now dated) garage rock sound of the 2010s. “tony” is familiar, but thankfully it doesn’t beat a dead horse. Both Tracey Denim and “tony” prove that a certain degree of referentiality is okay, and bar italia knows this more than anyone. 

Does it set off alarm bells for a shift in their sound? Perhaps it’s a bit early to tell. But make no mistake- this is still the bar italia we love- and they (and I) think you should stick around for more.

Watch the music video for “my little tony” below.

-mike utt