Bush Hall, London

3 October 2017

Almost exactly a year since I saw Iamthemorning in this same venue, and I've spent the whole year waiting for them to make another of their rare trips to England. Apparently it's not easy to get out of Russia ...

There was no support band, just Iamthemorning playing for over 90 minutes, and for me that was perfect. A support band is fine (you never know when you'll discover your next favourite band) but we're all there to see Iamthemorning. The hall had seating for around 120 people I guess, and there were only a few scattered empty seats. Marjana asked for a show of hands to see who had seen them before, and it's about half the audience. I guess most of the other half already knew the music, too, but I think that if anyone just wandered in by chance they would have fallen in love with the band just the same as the rest of us have. Because some bands are special ...

Some bands are special, and some concerts are special, and some concerts have me worked up in a mass of nervous expectation before I even get into the venue. So I'm queueing up outside the beautiful (though not from the outside) Bush Hall more than an hour before the doors open, and hoping the concert will be everything I have built it up to in my mind ...

And it is. No, it's better.

One of the strengths of Iamthemorning is that, as a duo (pianist Gleb Kolyadin and singer Marjana Semkina, in case there's anybody reading this who doesn't know them), they use whatever additional musicians they need for each song on their albums, and when it comes to a live performance they rearrange the music for whatever musicians they have with them, so you're never actually hearing the same arrangements. Tonight they are joined by a violin, cello, electric bass, and drums. The violin plays the part of Sleeping Pills that's sung by a choir on the album, the bass plays the acoustic guitar part on 5/4, and so on. It's brilliantly done. It's a band of virtuosos, handling all the complexities of the music perfectly.

They start the concert with Inside, from the first album, and it's a perfect statement of what makes Iamthemorning so different: it starts with the jaw-dropping virtuosity of Gleb playing a million notes a minute at the top end of the piano, a beautiful and intricate composition, with Marjana singing delicately over it. Then the band kicks in, and the change of dynamics is remarkable: it's a rock-band volume (but always with a crystal-clear sound mix), dominated by drums and crashing chords from Gleb, and Marjana goes from a whisper to a shout, and if you've never heard Iamthemorning before and you were fooled by the first few minutes you've probably fallen off your seat by now. Iamthemorning don't have only one gear like many rock bands, they have everything, the fragile beauty, the complexity, the hard rocking, just everything. They've been called "chamber prog", which I think isn't really a genre, it's a label invented purely for them, because nobody else sounds remotely like them. Iamthemorning are unique.

Marjana does all the announcements and banter between songs, and makes sure we understand that their songs are all about death and misery and mental illness (even their token "happy song", Matches, which is about how happy it makes her to burn people's houses down). She's good at poking fun at herself, but when she sings she's deadly serious, conveying her emotions through her face and whole body language as well as her versatile voice, and you can really believe she feels everything she sings. When she bites out the words to Chalk and Coal, a song about being in a mental institution, every word feels disturbingly real.

It's hard to talk about highlights when every song is a favourite, I'd be writing all night, but I need to mention one particular moment: Marjana leaves the stage during the long instrumental part in Crowded Corridors (it's about losing years of your life to your alternate personalities—a typically cheerful Marjana subject) and the rest of the band leave after it too. It's too early to finish, so I think they might be taking a break between sets, but no, Gleb has remained, and Marjana comes immediately back on and announces they will play, for the first time ever, a couple of new songs they've written. Songs so new that they don't have a band arrangement yet, so they are just voice and piano—Iamthemorning in their purest form, and one day I hope I'll see a full concert with just the two of them, because it's such a beautiful sound. I won't describe the songs themselves, except to say they were beautiful, and they were "typical" Iamthemorning songs, and you'll just have to wait for the next album.

Ah ... what else can I say? It was a perfect evening of music. Best concert I have ever seen. Some bands are just special.