Once again, there’s three of us out. This time it’s Fibbers to see one of my favourite bands on the first date of their 2011 Satellite Tour.
First, though, we have Marck “Marbled” Whiley taking the stage with his acoustic guitar to play us some “folky” songs (his description). This is the third time I’ve seen Marck and, I have to admit, I find him a bit of a mixed bag. I enjoy some of his songs and dislike others, but none really engage me. There is no denying that he is much more than competent on the guitar, using a mixture of techniques (no finger picking tonight, though) and that he has a good voice, although it can be a little too piercing when he hits the high notes. What he does do very well, is engage the audience – after renditions of Licking Electricity, Birds And Bee (with its repeated picturesque line of “White swan on an ink black lake”), Mary Poppins Blood Line with its minimal guitars starkly contrasting with the more powerful Spider In The Bath, during which most of the audience were pretty apathetic, he asked whether we wanted something more up-tempo or something slower. “Up-tempo!” shouted Roj, which prompted Marck to leave the stage, gather the audience around him and play The Beat Goes On completely unplugged, much has he did last time we saw him. I even spotted members of the headline band peering through the green room window in what appeared to be incredulous amusement as he did so. He followed this with another unplugged song, A Pony That (if I remember correctly…), which is his “Valentine’s Day” song and was duly sung directly to a lady from the audience. Returning to the stage, the set ended with the quiet Notre Dame which segued into the much faster, almost rockier, Run Rabbit Run, which is one of my favourites. Once again a mixed set from a very confident artist. I just wish his songs did more for me than they actually do.
I guess it’s something to do with the size of both the city itself and, perhaps, its venues, that means that York doesn’t get too many of the current crop of UK progressive rock bands playing here. Panic Room, however, with their obvious links to the city’s own Mostly Autumn, have a reasonably sized York-based following and are playing their fourth gig here tonight at Fibbers. The venue itself has had its detractors since the refit last year, but it does seem to be ironing out some of the problems and is certainly attracting some decent bands. Panic Room themselves are a band most definitely on the up. Lead singer Anne-Marie Helder was recently voted best female singer by Classic Rock Presents Prog magazine, while the band’s 2010 album, Satellite, featured as a top ten entry in end of years polls in both that magazine and Classic Rock itself.
Taking to the stage through a haze of blue smoke, the band make an entrance worthy of a bigger venue, before bursting into a rendition of Freedom To Breathe, following that with Picking Up Knives, Yasuni, The Fall and Black Noise, all from Satellite. Switching to their debut album, Visionary Position, the band seem to have tweaked Elektra City a little, using new vocal effects and making it a bit darker towards the end. Reborn is followed by a return to Satellite and a welcome return to the live set for Into The Fire. This is followed by Song For Tomorrow, a new song the lyrics for which were reportedly being written in the van on the way up to the gig. It opens with just keyboards before bursting into life with some of the band’s heaviest guitar work and a middle piano section leads to a simple drums and vocal section before it bursts into life again – a fantastic new song. next up comes 5th Amendment, from Little Satellite (the bonus disk that shipped with last year’s album), then it’s back to the debut for Apocalypstick, with it’s haunting Eastern tones. There’s a brief departure from their own material as the cover version of ELP’s Bitches Crystal, originally recorded for a Prog cover CD that is now very unlikely to ever see the light of day, is performed. Dark Star and Satellite, the latter with a very interesting if somewhat brief spacey bass section from, end the main set.
Unsurprisingly, Anne-Marie et al return to the stage for an encore, this time of another new song, again being completed on the way up. “I think this one is going to be called Promises,” states Anne-Marie, perhaps to the surprise of the rest of the band. It’s a bit funkier than the rest of their output but, like Song For Tomorrow, remains unmistakeably a Panic Room song.
I’ve seen Panic Room every time they have played York and this is by far the best performance they have put on in the city, helped in no small part by a very good light show and, for the most part, unusually clear sound which meant that Anne-Marie’s vocals could be heard above the music for most of the set. Clearly enjoying themselves and singing the venue’s praises, the band played a superb nearly two-hour set, mixing it up just enough from the tour last year. The addition of the new songs must surely promise that work on a new album is around the corner and, if they can come up with songs anywhere near as good as tonight’s it’s going to be a cracker. Finally a word about Paul Davies – I love watching him play guitar. His facial expressions convey everything from the ease with which he plays to the fact that he seems to live every note.
It may only be mid-way through February but tonight is an early contender for best live performance in my round up of the year.