These days, if there’s a band that I like playing York it doesn’t matter if any of the gang are going to see them. If I’ve got nothing else on, I’ll go on my own. Tonight, it’s the third visit to our city by Panic Room and nothing was going to stop me keeping my 100% attendance record.
First support came from Scream Arena, another band I’d seen before. Tonight they were a lot less flamboyantly dressed than last time and gave the impression that they weren’t trying as hard to project an almost archetypal image of a rock band. Yes, vocalist Andy Paul still looks like a singing Slash, but those of the rest of the band who were, last time out, rather flamboyantly dressed had toned down their appearance this time. Musically, pounding drums and crashing chords were mixed with some intricate solos and sometimes ear-piercing vocals to produce some pretty good heavy metal, which I enjoyed more this time than I did last. Admittedly, the lyrics were hard to make out most of the time, but that’s not unusual with live music. In this case, the vocals somehow seemed to be clearer when Paul was backed by other band members. The first time I reviewed the band, I wasn’t that impressed. This time, I found myself liking them more. Maybe familiarity, in this case, breeds enjoyment. House of Pain remains the standout song, but the rest of the set wasn’t half bad.
Chris Johnson has more than one link to Panic Room and associated acts so it was, perhaps, no great surprise to see him on stage tonight. A talented musician, song-writer and singer, past member of Mostly Autumn and current guiding force behind Parade, Chris generally performs solo with an acoustic, albeit effects-aided, guitar and tonight was no exception. He played songs from his solo career (Luckiest Man Alive), from Parade (the wonderful Dogs and Come Alive) and one he wrote with Mostly Autumn (Science And Machinery, which appeared on the special edition of the Heart Full Of Sky album – sadly not the version I own). All were played with energy, a clear voice and a seeming reluctance to make eye contact with the audience. Not that that matters – this was another good set from one of York’s most multi-dimensional artistes.
Since the last time I saw Panic Room, they have had a slight line-up change. Bass-player Alun Vaughan has left the band to pursue other bass related activities and has been replaced by Yatim Halimi, and, it has to be said, I don’t think I’ve ever seen any string member of the rhythm section enjoy himself as much as Yatim did tonight. Dancing, singing backing vocals and jumping around stage, all the time wearing an ear to ear grin, he was fantastic and much more “front of stage” than Alun ever was. That’s not a criticism of Alun, just an indication of how different the two performers are.
This being the Satellite Tour, much of tonight’s set-list came from the band’s second album. But mixed in with the likes of Freedom To Breathe, Yasuni, Dark Star were a sample of songs from Visionary Position. Anne-Marie Helder performed Elektra City superbly, using hand gestures and subtle changes in head position to accentuate the “technological” side of the song, while Reborn and Apokalypstick were welcome returns. There was a small part of the set where the vocals seemed to go a little muddy and, indeed, Anne-Marie herself sounded just a little hoarse for a while in the middle. Given the amount of effort she puts into her vocals, however, that’s perhaps no surprise. I have to say that The Fall was, for me, spoiled a little by the vocal effects used during it, but that was a minor blip.
Panic Room recently recorded a song for a CD to be given away with an issue of Classic Rock Presents Prog magazine. In celebration of the reunion of Emerson, Lake and Palmer at this year’s High Voltage festival, a number of modern prog bands were asked to record cover versions of ELP songs and Panic Room chose Bitches Crystal. Sadly, legal matters mean that the CD has yet to see the light of day (and may never do so if I read a comment in the latest issue correctly) but the band have decided to add their song to the current set-list. I’m not at all familiar with the original, but tonight’s version was brilliant. Like most PR songs, it was atmospheric and bordering on epic, with key parts for all the musicians and great vocals.
As usual, the musicianship was astonishing, with Paul Davies’ guitar-playing being, at times, nothing short of astonishing. Unlike some prog rock bands, there’s no over-reliance on keyboards – Jonathan’s playing adds dimension to the songs without being intrusive – and Gavin’s drums were, as ever superb. Yatim even managed to provide a small bass solo during the encore of Satellite, without resorting to playing funk as some bass players are wont to do. Panic Room are one of my favourite bands and seem to get better every time I see them.