Towards the end of Nabihah Iqbal's first ever solo headline gig, she made a self-deprecating joke about reactions to her debut album. People had found it inspiring how positive and forthcoming her music was in the midst of all this darkness, and she grinningly said that it's all a mask. The humour of this was obvious to anyone in this gig, because of how intimate and uncensored the whole night had been; it was impossible to see her as anything but honest.
Nabihah Iqbal treats the raw, emotive sound of rock with a reverential touch that I've rarely experienced. Rather than a noisy, derivative support act building up tension for the eventual headliner reveal, punters were faced early in the gig with Nabihah herself onstage, introducing the West Midlands poet Sana Rashid. As Rashid read the set of poems she had written in reaction to Nabihah's album, the only sounds underlining her passionate, consistently intense voice were camera clicks and the occasional rumble of trains over our heads.
Following the album's themes of struggle and disconnection in modern life, this performance developed a feeling of solidarity amongst the Londoners stood underneath arched bricks, a feeling intensified by the second poet; Nabihah's brother Haseeb. His last poem was dedicated to a friend who died 6 weeks after being flagged as at-risk to the UK's underfunded mental health facilities, with no aid provided. I've heard some noise lately about poetry being 'in fashion', but this felt entirely seperate from that; as with Nabihah's choice to move away from the decks and from her 'Throwing Shade' alter-ego, Haseeb's mode of communication felt like it prioritised personal truth above all else.
Eventually Nabihah and her collaborator Lyle took the stage, and delivered the slow, deliberate piano notes of Eden Piece to the crowd, extending and oscillating the track. Though the performance went through Nabihah's album from start to finish in chronological order, the tracks were given the space to breath and expand, as the two musicians reacted to eachother. It hard to describe why, but it was thrilling to watch the duo as they locked eyes, voices and headnod-tempo whilst pushing their sound upwards. It was that solidarity, the way that they never missed a beat, the intimate revelation of the music; their musical synchronicity implied an act well into a touring career, but their wide eyes revealed precious significance. At the end of each track there was two seconds of silence, before thunderous applause from the sold-out crowd.
Particular highlights came in Zone 1 - 6000, with its brilliant rhythmic spoken word, and an extended dancefloor-smashing Untitled Friday, which Nabihah revealed beforehand to be inspired by a local honour killing. Along with her earlier introduction to the Something More as a song about modern exhaustion, it was a reminder of the starkly real issues at the heart of her music.
Before the show's final song, Nabihah made another self-deprecating joke, saying that she would go offstage and come back on again for the encore but that the venue was too small. This wasn't true; the venue did have a backstage area. The truth was that doing an encore would have felt wrong, as this wasn't that kind of rock show. There was no ego-projection, no attempts to offer brief god figures up for worship. It was a night of frank honesty and beautiful expression. It was real.