Venue : The Underworld, Camden, London
Date : 14 April 2012
Panic Room were the band I knew the best out of this showcase lineup, having seen them more than a few times in recent years, and they have always put on an excellent show. They have also been very good at keeping their setlist turning over, so it was going to be interesting to see what they included in a shorter than usual set this evening. They came on to the stage at 2000 to a slightly larger crowd than Sanguine Hum but there still fewer people here than there had been for The Reasoning. And Panic Room do open with a new track, Song For Tomorrow, the band coming on and starting up before Anne-Marie Helder joins them, then it blasts off with a big sound, rumbling hard against a very melodic sound with Anne-Marie on guitar as well as vocals. I should say straight away that I consider her to be the best female vocalist on the scene at the moment, and I make no apologies for going overboard in my praise of her vocal talents. The track settles as she sings in and then it bursts on as her wonderful voice soars. There is a big bassline from Yatim Halimi with floating keyboards from Jonathan Edwards, the guitar circles in, the drums rattle, and Anne-Marie sings on top of the ever melodic sound. It is driving a hard line now and her voice soars high out of it, before the track settles to considered keyboards, some more rumbling bass. The drums pound from Gavin John Griffiths and Anne-Marie sings in before it kicks away again. Her voice soars really high before the track fades down to Paul Davies‘ guitar and the drums, and then fades out. I have heard the song a few times now and it does sound a step up for them again. They continue straight on with the crowd clapping along to Freedom To Breathe, the upbeat opener from their last album, Satellite. It has got a hard shuffle to it from the delicious riff, a busy sound which is growing with the vocals. It picks up and soars through the chorus before settling and rolling on and growing again, bigger this time around. The guitar cuts out and develops before returning to the main theme. It is a lot of fun as it rocks along, and not only because the lyrics are so good. Paul plays around on the guitar neck and Jerry Ewing appears to be enjoying it as it drives to a crashing finish and big cheers from the crowd. “Oh, thank you so much guys”, says Anne-Marie before they continue on with Promises (another new track from their forthcoming album, Skin). It opens with big keyboards and then the guitar riffs in. The sound calms as the vocals come in and the bass thumps along with some biting drums. The keyboards surge as the vocals rise and it kicks off with a big guitar burst. It is a huge sound driving along with flourishes, Jonathan’s keyboards pushing, then it holds to thumping bass as the guitar develops and the keyboards flow. Anne-Marie sings into the big sound as it pushes and her voice soars before it drives to a sharp finish. It is so hot up there that Yatim takes off his top. “The new album, by the way, is called ‘Skin'”, says Anne-Marie.
Next up is their version of the ELP track, Bitches Crystal, with rich piano opening the sound before it moves into a lounge feel with rumbling bass, tight drums and Anne-Marie’s voice smooth on top. You can hear the original in there, but they have given it their own sound, their own feel, touches like it edging along into wonderful slide guitar which pushes to a shriek. And they finish it in grand style, the drums rattle and the vocals take it higher to close. I wonder what big ELP fan Bob Hodds would think of it – take a listen to his Dead Nobodies podcast and he might tell you. The band continue with Exodus, a song taken from an old ep by Anne-Marie, which is well worth getting if you can still find a copy somewhere out there. As well as taking on the vocal duties, she is also playing guitar and her part circles in gently as the keyboards float. She also sings gently with the soft sound and it rolls easily with her voice taking on a fragile feel, high and rising, wonderfully melodic. The drums tap in, Paul’s guitar adds to the sound, and the whole track becomes more rounded with a melancholy feel and then kicks away into the chorus. It settles before the guitar cuts through with a harsh edge and develops, with Anne-Marie singing through that considered sound. The keyboards tumble in as the track begins to open up again, then the song bursts out with the vocals soaring, before it gradually winds down and fades to an end. “You can’t take anything else off”, she tells Yatim, and then continues “we thought we would play something we’ve never played before from the new album” and Hiding The World begins with the guitar riffing in hard, the keyboards surge and it blasts hard before it then settles and rocks along with bursts as the vocals move deeper. The drums rattle with some more of that excellent rumbling bass and Anne-Marie’s voice soars into next part and is suddenly much higher, really demonstrating her range and her versatility. The track is a big rocker with a hard edge running under it from the riffing guitar. It certainly does not let up and keeps pushing into a final round of big riffing and a crashing finish. But the keyboards keep floating through, and Anne-Marie has her 12-string acoustic guitar ready. She pauses for breath – “its like a workout doing that song !” she gasps, before continuing “I want to give huge kudos to The Reasoning for playing after all the hard things they have been through recently”, she hopes for a safe return of Owain Roberts very soon, and the sentiment is very warmly received. “This is for our dear friend Ray, who has just lost his wife Steff”, and they ease into Satellite. The guitar circles in, the bass rumbles, the drums tap and bring it together and Anne-Marie sings with the flowing sound from the keyboards. Having seen them more than a few times over the years I can appreciate how the touring has brought them to such a tight sound. It gradually builds as her voice rises, always smooth, always controlled and she drives it hard into the chorus and it soars, before settling to a considered bass part which gets its own well-deserved applause. They really have produced an epic sound with this track and the guitar edges through and then develops – and very soon the overall sound is anthemic and deserves a much larger audience and wider appreciation. This is intelligent rock, and hopefully the new record deal will get Panic Room out to those who will appreciate it. The vocals lead it back to a soaring chorus before it eases down once again and flows along melodic before rising once more. I am just wrapped up in the whole thing. And the guitar screeches high again, pushing the track into a big finish with Anne-Marie’s voice circling and soaring, the guitar piercing out, and I am sure I am not alone in wishing it would never end. Not surprisingly there are huge cheers and loud calls for more through the clapping. Their brilliant set comes to an end far too soon at 2048.
I hear later that Andy Rotherham found one of Anne-Marie’s plectrums while he was clearing the stage for Tin Spirits. Another for his collection ! And Jerry Ewing says hello to Robert Ramsay at the bar.
I heard a rumour about another band signing to Esoteric Antenna, but I had best say nothing here.