Bush Hall, London

14 November 2016

Iamthemorning have been getting a lot of attention recently, but I still wasn't sure how big their audience would be—last time I saw them, they were supporting Gazpacho and I think I was one of the very few who was there just to see Iamthemorning.

Tonight, even though I got there early, there was a sizeable queue already, and it only got bigger. Bush Hall isn't massive, but they filled it. Over-filled it: there were crowds standing at the back! On a Monday night! They may have been helped by having Tim Bowness on the bill (at least two people—right in front of me—left in the interval, after his set), but I think it's safe to say that Iamthemorning have found their audience over here. And they deserve it, because they ... ok, I'm getting ahead of myself, I'll get to their performance in a minute.

First, Bush Hall is beautiful. I think the capacity might be around 300, and there was conventional seating laid out. For this type of music, I far prefer to sit and concentrate on it than stand and have my knees complaining all night, so good choice by the band. The stage is high enough to see the band perfectly even when you're sitting behind a tall person (but did I mention that the tall person left in the interval?). And the decor is beautiful—all Victorian elegance.

Second, Tim Bowness. I know very little about him. I've heard a little of his music but it never really engaged me. Live, it's completely different. He's got a fine voice, but more than that there's a compelling intensity to his singing that makes a very powerful live experience. He's got a good band with him, including an electric fiddle player that I'm sure I've seen with someone else but I can't figure out who. I can't give you any song titles, but my instant favourite is a beautiful song called ... maybe something like Wherever there is Light? Not sure ...

Iamthemorning joined Tim Bowness for a couple of songs. And, later, he would join them in their own set to sing a couple more of his own songs—I was dubious when I realised they were doing this, but it actually worked really well, the tone of his songs slotting easily into Iamthemorning's set, and in the end I didn't begrudge "missing" a couple more Iamthemorning songs at all. But I can't understand why they didn't take advantage of having a male voice on hand to perform Lighthouse ... it seems so obvious, but they didn't do it. Oh well. Getting ahead again. I think it's time to talk about Iamthemorning.

Iamthemorning ... are like no other band I've ever heard. They are a duo, Gleb Kolyadin on piano and Marjana Semkina on vocals. And there's actually a grand piano on stage! Last time I saw them, Gleb playing a little electric keyboard just seemed wrong. This time it looked ... Well, right. For tonight's concert they were joined by cello, violin, drums, and electric bass. Yes, that's right, a rock band without a guitar. Gleb is their lead instrument, and the main reason why this band is different to anybody, everybody, else. And he's phenomenal. I think the best pianist I've ever heard in a rock band. And yes I've heard Wakeman and Emerson and all the rest. I stand by my statement. When he goes into the long piano break at the end of Crowded Corridors, you feel like you're at a classical recital (yes, I've been to a few of those too, and Gleb's still the best), he plays with so much complexity, masses and masses of notes tripping over themselves. Even the rest of the band is looking at him like they can't quite believe it. Of course, the rest of the band is excellent too, and keep up with him without any effort, no matter how complex the music gets. But it's not just cleverness and complexity, he never loses sight of playing beautiful music. Beautiful, beautiful musical ideas.

And all this beautiful music wraps around songs about death, pain, mental illness, and (yes, really) electro-convulsive therapy.

And so I come to the other half of Iamthemorning: Marjana Semkina. How can somebody who seems so nice write such dark songs? Between the songs her chatter is so friendly and humourous, and then the song starts and, bang, darkness and pain. But the darkness is the other element that makes Iamthemorning's music so compelling. The lyrics grab you, force you to concentrate, and don't let you go until 90 minutes later when you're completely emotionally drained. Live, Marjana's singing is a lot more powerful than you might expect from hearing the albums, but still with exquisite control over her range and expressiveness. And you have to see her standing in a long white dress, an almost spooky figure in the stage lighting with her hair hanging over her face, singing about insanity, and her already evocative voice complemented by her expressions and body language, and the whole thing is ... ah. I don't know. It's just the perfect image to go with the songs.

The set draws fairly evenly from all three albums, and I'm not going to list everything, just say that I love everything, and I'm fascinated by how they adapt the complex arrangements for the instruments on stage. I already think of many of these songs as "classics", but that's as true for the newest songs as it is for the oldest ("oldest" meaning about four years old!). Do I wish they'd included other things? Yes, I've mentioned Lighthouse, and I still live in hope of Reprise, but I wouldn't want them to drop 5/4 (their happiest song—it's not happy, but it does have a clap-along bit), or Scotland, or Romance (it's not about romance), or Matches (their other happy song—it's about how much fun it is to burn somebody's house down), or especially Crowded Corridors or Sleeping Pills, or ... any of it. So really they played just about the most perfect set they could play in 90 minutes.

And I've talked about the darkness in the lyrics, so perhaps I need to stress that the concert as a whole is tremendously uplifting. There is humour and happiness, and beauty, and musical brilliance, and just simple pleasure of knowing you have been through something magical.

Standing ovations at the end. And they deserved it. Then they came out to the front and spent what seemed like an hour signing things and talking to people. And I even managed to say thank-you at the end, which is very rare for me.

Coming to this gig was a long and expensive journey (and I'm just talking about me, I can't even imagine what it was like for the band) but it was more than worth it. I would do this every week if I could.

Started writing this at around two this morning and I'm not even sure what time it is now, so apologies for any incoherence. But all I really needed to say is this:

Best concert I've ever seen.

Iamthemorning t-shirt