Panic Room plus Karma Junkie

Panic Room were playing a home town gig in Swansea on Friday before their return to The Peel on Saturday.  I already had a ticket for the gig at The Peel, but once I heard that Liz Prendergast (who played electric violin on the excellent Visionary Position) was making a guest appearance, I knew I had to be there.  Once I had left behind the environs of Birmingham is was probably my most picturesque drive to a gig and after a slight retracing of steps once through Swansea city centre, I found the gig location and a free parking space very easily.  I was early, and especially as it became clear doors were not opening until 8.30pm.  Fortunately I was there at the same time as Richard, who I had met at an Anne-Marie Helder acoustic gig previously, and after having the biggest portion of ‘small chips’ I have had in a long time from the shop next door to the venue, we headed over to the Uplands Tavern, where we met up with Tim and Chris off the Panic Room forum and spent the time until the doors opened.  The venue itself is below a snooker hall, and is quite compact, with the stage opening out into a floor area which leads up to a raised area at the bar.  There were tables and chairs immediately below the raised area, leaving a gap in the floor area between there and the stage.  The venue was quite full, but sadly no-one dared venture too far from the tables and chairs and so the gap remained.
Karma Junkie were support for the evening, an experimental, lyric-driven folk band made up of Dan Linn on vocals and guitar, and Rose Pearl on violin and harp.  They opened with Save The Game, featuring guitar, violin and a backing track, and producing a song which was soft with an air of melancholy, a full sound with lots going on within the track, and some very solid vocals.  Consequences “is a protest song” with upbeat guitar strumming and the violin adding tension.  They then switched to guitar and harp for DeSensitized, a tapping intro leading into a melodic easy paced track, the harp adding colour and melody at a slightly slowly tempo than the guitar, the song winding down to a close.  It was back to guitar and violin for Ho Chi Minh City, which was “for mum. I mean that with love. Not that kind of love.” and this fast paced number produced some quite aggressive vocals and a sharp ending.  They covered Thom Yorke’s Atoms For Peace on guitar and harp, Dan making a live recording of various elements before looping them, and starting all over again when he was not happy with the first time – I admire such dedication to his art.  The rhythmic opening was joined by beatbox vocals and a guitar part, which he then sang over, with keyboards adding a mellow touch and the harp entering slowly overlaying all other sounds, the guitar part going deeper, continuing the main theme as it fades to a finish.  They closed with Crystal Lines, an upbeat track with guitar and violin, the violin complimenting the vocals this time, and bringing to an end an inventive and very enjoyable set.  I see that they play some gigs in London so I will certainly be trying to get along to see them again.
Panic Room appeared very relaxed going into this gig, mixing with friends and family in the audience and enjoying a few drinks and some chat, and they unhurriedly made their way to the stage, easily filling the small area.  So now they were all ready to go, but The Doors’ Roadhouse Blues would not give way to allow them to launch into Elektra City…when it finally did they filled the room with that wonderfully familiar sound, Paul Davies appearing to have some fun playing about with the guitar intro a little.  Where were the vocals ?  There was no sound coming from Anne-Marie’s microphone, so they kept the intro going for a while before finally stopping to allow the problem to be fixed…and the microphone was plugged in.  Anne-Marie was not wrong in saying it was “a night of technical gremlins”.  “Welcome to the gig, let’s try that again” and we are off into the striking wonder that is Elektra City, Gavin John Griffiths’ drums kicking in so hard, the change in mood within the track working so well in the live environment, Alun Vaughan’s bass mixing with Jonathan Edwards’ keyboards and Gavin’s drums keeping them in check as the song runs into Paul’s luscious guitar solo.  It’s a storming way to start a gig.  “It’s great to come and do a gig in your home town” as they continue into Reborn, which rocks and flows, the band sounding so tight and the vocals soaring.  Sandstorms is a new number about “being somewhere summery, much like Swansea” and the keyboard dominated intro has an organ-like sound to it, something Jon Lord might have come up, a quirky number with an interesting bass line and a soaring guitar sound rising over the track.  Another new track with Into The Fire, about leaping in and taking chances, a piano intro with acoustic guitar, a gentle beat and a soft sound leading into a more rocking chorus and the tempo builds with guitar flourishes, before it quietens and slows to an end.  And “it’s that time” – Liz Prendergast joins them on stage for Banks Of The Ohio, a swampy blues number which also sees Anne-Marie on electric guitar, and this high tempo number has a very full sound with some stunning blues guitar from Paul.  Liz stays with the band for Endgame (Speed Of Life), once they have sorted out some keyboard gremlins.  There is such depth to the song, with Liz’s electric violin skipping along with the cymbals over the top of Paul’s guitar track, with only Alun’s bass keeping the flurry of sound grounded, and it is so busy it needs, demands the slower middle section to calm it down, the electric violin cutting through everything before rising again and the song closes with a wonderful chaos of sound.  Yet another new track, and Pleading The 5th Amendment is about old friends who forget you.  It has a bouncy beat with a strong vocal line, breaks into a light guitar riff before a harder end section brings it to a slower close, and takes us into the intermission.
Well, it’s an intermission for all except Anne-Marie as we get to enjoy her solo acoustic spot, but only after telling us that the gremlins have broken the smoke machine.  Hadditfeel is perfect, and even manages to shut up the chattering girls standing next to me…momentarily, but I’ll take any small comfort…and leads into the soothing sounds of Dominoes, displaying the full range of Anne-Marie’s glorious vocals, and the wonderful melody when the acoustic guitar comes in makes the song so uplifting, even if she does grimace as feedback hits.  The band return, mention is made of Panic Room bikinis as modelled by Ray, and we quickly move on from that to Yasuni, another new track, with Anne-Marie on electric guitar.  The catchy keyboard intro and guitar riffs take us into a medium tempo track where the vocals are providing the melody with a backdrop of dramatic guitar parts, the sound spiralling upwards into a guitar break from Paul where the high parts are just holding back the feedback, and the pace has picked up and is growing, Gavin’s drums now driving the song, Alun’s bass keeping it under control, the song has an epic feel to it, almost anthemic in places and thenfades to a whispered ‘Yasuni’ end.  Apparently, Alun Vaughan either goes heavy or beautiful in his writing – Black Noise is heavy, with a thumping start which grows into a soaring, riffing shorus, then subsides into a subdued section which is ripped apart by some heavy guitar riffing, sharp drums and that insistent bass sound, there is a flurry of keyboards and the track races.  Anne-Marie is on acoustic guitar for the first airing of another song by Alun (this must be one of the beautiful ones) – The Great Divide.  A gentle electric guitar intro takes us into a ballad, with the keyboards providing melody, plaintive vocals, a delicate guitar part, then a controlled huitar solo with soaring moments, and a beautiful song slows to an end.  Then we get a “bit more of an angry one” with Go.  The guitar intro is bouncy, has a hard edge to it, and a very guitar based track features a very sharp solo before a riffing ending.  Liz is back on stage for a “little ditty which was going to be an instrumental”.  The gorgeous Moon On The Water sees Paul on acoustic guitar, with Liz’s electric violin taking the melody and Jonathan’s keyboards rippling below that.  Liz stays on for I Wonder What’s Keeping My True Love Tonight, opening with Anne-Marie’s vocals alone, then joined by some warm keyboard sounds, the drums come in softly, the violin and guitar cut in in parts, and finaly there is the bass as Liz produces a stunning electric violin solo, Anne-Marie adds some electric guitar for the finish and it is a superb ending with the electric violin really dominating the sound and bringing the song alive.  Anne-Marie’s vocals fill the room, soaring echoing; the guitar sound cuts in, frantic, piercing; the electric violin adds an arabian feel as it swoops and swirls, the rhythm is pounding and we are into Apocalypstick, Liz going crazy on the violin, Anne-Marie adding electric guitar, there is a flood of noise on top of the keyboard solo and this stunning version of a brilliant song is my highlight of the night.  And they move on to the last track of the night, Blood Red Sky, off Anne-Marie’s solo album, Contact.  But something is pulsing…that would be Liz’s electric violin then, and another gremlin to add to the night, before we get a striking, rocking version of the track, driven along with some very sharp drumming, and a lovely whispered ending.
Liz is back up for the encore – No Quarter “for any Led Zep fans out there…we should probably apologise”.  The keyboards build the atmosphere, the bass cuts in, everything cuts in, Liz’s violin is hitting the riffs, it’s a wonderful version, different, bouncy, rocking, fresh, and great fun.  Pretty much sums up this excellent band then !
I then got chatting with Mike off the Panic Room forum, got more than a few autographs, gave casual consideration to three bouncers trying to evict an angry man from the premises while the woman he was directing his anger at followed them along so she could continue the verbal fight, and at about 1.30am I thought it was time to make my way to that M4 journey home.  It had been more than worth the journey to enjoy this experience.

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