Courtyard Theatre, London

1 October 2019

"We're so happy to be back in England. And we're going to celebrate by singing lots of songs about dead girls."

If you're expecting a long, song-by-song review, you're not going to get it. It's late, and I'm tired, and I'm not doing long reviews any more.

I'm just going to say that was the best concert I've ever seen, and that is all.

It's two years since I last saw Iamthemorning, and I've been looking forward to this concert so much. Iamthemorning has been my best discovery of recent years, and tonight's concert doesn't disappoint me one bit. As well as putting out the best album of the year (again), Iamthemorning is now my favourite live band. Judging by the reactions around me and the standing ovation at the end, everyone here agrees with me. We're all here for the songs about dead girls.

There are probably a little over 100 of us. I count 50 seats, and behind them at least the same number of people standing. I'm in the first rank of standing people, and though my knees are going to complain tomorrow my view of the stage is perfect. And the sound is surprisingly good. My first impressions of a featureless square room in the basement weren't great, but the sound pleasantly surprised me, every note clear but with an acoustic resonance that added an extra darkness to the instrumental tones that was just perfect for the songs.

The stage was large enough for Marjana to dance around (there was a lot of dancing) and also comfortably fit all the musicians. One of the great things about Iamthemorning is that every time you see them they have a different combination of instruments with them, so everything you hear will sound new, every arrangement of your favourite song presenting you with surprises and new favourite moments. With them for this gig they have the incredible Evan Carson on drums and bodhran, one of the most versatile and inventive percussionists I've ever seen. Charlie Cawood on classical guitar, another phenomenal musician and composer in his own right. And on cello ... and I'm really annoyed and embarrassed I can't recall his name at the moment, because he's played with them before.

"We could have brought a symphony orchestra. But the Home Office probably wouldn't give them visas."

Marjana has a lot to say about visas. She has a lot to say about everything. She's always talkative, but tonight she excels herself, nattering on about everything under the sun: song introductions, bad jokes, tour anecdotes, visas. She just seems so happy, and you marvel at how someone so outwardly happy and full of life and humour can write such deathly serious and introspective songs about, well, dead girls.

The set list is nearly perfect. Opening with "old" (relatively speaking) favourites Scotland, To Human Misery, Touching II (a personal favourite). Then Matches from Lighthouse, dedicated to people whose houses she wants to burn down, and I won't say who, I'm sworn to secrecy.

"I'm digging my own grave here. I should write a song about that."

Sometimes I wonder if she's deliberately playing up to her "image", but all the banter feels so honest and natural. She's just naturally one of the most openly friendly and charismatic performers I've seen on stage.

Also from Lighthouse, Sleeping Pills (the instrumentation so rich and dense at the end that you don't even miss the choir that should be singing it) and Libretto Horror.

And then,

"We have a new album out. It's called The Bell. And we're going to play ... it."

All of it. I can't believe it. It is honestly the best album of the year, but the music is so complex and varied and richly orchestrated, it seems impossible that they can play all of it with just five musicians. I mean, Freak Show, it's got horns, and electric guitar, and Spanish guitar, and dense layers of sound, and it shouldn't work stripped down like this. But it does. Because this band—all of them here tonight, not just Gleb and Marjana—is just phenomenal. And the melodic and lyrical core of the songs is so strong that you can rearrange them however you want and that core, that heart, and that emotion is still there.

"We're trying a lot of new things tonight. Including allowing me to play guitar."

Marjana plays guitar now, but only on a couple of songs (Blue Sea and umm... something else). I've watched her go from covers on Youtube where she had to stop and look at her fingers while she changed chords to standing confidently in front of a band full of virtuoso musicians and, despite her typically self-deprecating comments, holding her own without any effort.

But it's her voice that is probably the most virtuosic instrument on stage tonight. Apart from the natural beauty of her voice, she has so much control over its range and dynamics and colour that it really is an instrument in itself. She whispers and shouts and screams, and it all serves to convey the emotion of her extraordinary lyrics. And apart from her voice, she throws her whole body into the performance. Her greatest moment comes in Chalk and Coal (a cheerful song about electro-convulsive therapy) where, in addition to navigating the impressive vocal dynamics, her face and body language convinces you that she actually does belong in an asylum.

Gleb. I haven't said anything about Gleb, because his talent on piano is beyond my ability to describe. He sits quietly at the back of the stage and just plays the most unbelievable things. You watch his fingers during Lilies (a propulsive, repetitive riff that Steve Reich would have been proud of) and wonder how it is humanly possible to do that. The long solo coda of that song is one of the absolute highlights of the night. Even Marjana applauds it. His riffs, his solos, his harmonic choices that either lead or support the other musicians, his ability to fill out the sound of songs that should have a lot more instruments on them. Every note he plays is beautiful and musically perfect for the song. Gleb is perhaps the most impressive musician I've seen in any genre, and if I'm talking most about Marjana it's just because she's at the front and doing all the talking. Without Gleb at the back, it wouldn't be Iamthemorning.

After The Bell, they finish off with a few older songs. 5/4, with audience participation (and everybody goes wrong again; I think it's because it's not actually in 5/4 time, so it feels that there should be another clap in there). Chalk and Coal I've already mentioned. Finishing with a powerful rendition of K.O.S.

They seem a bit unsure about whether they should leave the stage before the encore, and eventually do for a token five seconds before coming back to play Romance (which isn't a love song, obviously).

And is there anything essential they've got left?

"This is our last song. It's about a dead girl."

Os Lunatum. It's about a dead girl. Of course it is.

Ah. I have no idea what time of the morning it is now. But that's all I can say. I'm not going to write a long review, I'm just going to tell you this was the best concert I have ever seen.

I love this band.