It’s been a while since the whole gang have been out together but tonight we managed to synchronise diaries and turn up at Fibbers for a band whose output we all know (to varying degrees) and like. One of my favourites – the superb Welsh proggers, Panic Room.
On their latest and, so far, longest tour, Panic Room are being supported on a number of dates by David R Black, a self-financed and self-managed rock trio who seem determined to live the rock ‘n’ roll dream. Hailing from Manchester and comprising of David R (guitar and vocals), Sarit Black (bass and backing vocals) and Pai (drums), the band has just released its second album, Secret City, and tonight we were treated to songs both from it and full-length debut Hearts And Stars, as well as from earlier EPs. Opening with the bass-heavy Dark Side Of Her they showed us a style of uncompromising, yet uncomplicated rock. Empire Building gave us strong vocals building to a crescendo, while Secret City had a middle section of pounding drums, with the melodic guitar just about pushing its way through them. Crawl was written by Black who, throughout the set, seemed to be doing her best to play the dark and mysterious, determinedly keeping her eye-line above the (rather small) crowd and avoiding looking at any cameras pointed her way. No Code was followed by Trinity, which featured my favourite guitar work of the set and included a nice change of pace at the end. Signals, with its slow, atmospheric start leading into a lively performance with a guitar sound reminiscent of The Who was, for me, the best song overall. I didn’t catch the title of the next song but the final one, new single Ezra, was helped by another lively performance along with the best lights and backing vocals of the set. I described the set as uncomplicated, by which I mean no slight. It was a set of short, punchy songs for the most part, with no screaming guitar solos or musical histrionics. A good, solid performance and, in hindsight, I wish I had picked up a CD or two.
Tonight is the fifth time I’ve seen Panic Room – I think that is every time they have played York – and the second time this year. It’s also by far the smallest crowd I have seen them play to, with one or two regulars missing from view. It’s a shame as I doubt it can be sustainable playing to such a small number of people and I can’t help but worry that, even with the band’s tenuous ties to York (two members also play in York’s own Mostly Autumn and Halo Blind) that, eventually, they won’t play here as often. There’s no new album to promote this time around (their third isn’t due until next year) tonight’s set was a slightly re-jigged version of the one I saw back in February. Opening with the monumental Song For Tomorrow, which will feature on the next album and is almost a definitive prog track, with individual sections allowing each musician to shine briefly. Next came Freedom To Breathe and I still can’t help wondering what Anne-Marie is thinking as she sings about the perils of celebrity while having multiple cameras pointed in her direction. This was followed by (I think) 5th Amendment from the Little Satellite bonus disk, Picking Up Knives, The Fall, which somehow seems to exude and air of improvisation, and Reborn – a nice mix of songs from the first two albums. Fans seem a bit divided on I Am The Cat. Personally, I think it’s a nice piece of fun which can be used to break up a set of sometimes quite serious songs. So, when Anne-Marie announced a bit of “pussy action”, I couldn’t hide a wry smile. A return to seriousness with the destruction of the rainforests and Yasumi was followed by a song I haven’t heard played live before. Exodus originally appeared on Contact, Anne-Marie’s solo EP, has been beefed up from a piano-led piece to a full band rocker and is very entertaining. There was mention that it might be recorded in this format some time. The second newly-written song, Promises – another one with obvious brief individual sections – was followed by the brilliant cover of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Bitches Crystal, which has finally seen the light of day on an EP available for sale only on this tour (also including an instrumental version of Dark Star, a very nice animated video for Satellite and two songs already available on the albums – the latter, perhaps, making it less of a bargain than it should have been) and produced an incredibly sultry performance from Anne-Marie. The set ended with the powerful Dark Star and Satellite before the band returned to give us Sandstorms, with the most prominent use of Jonathan Edwards’ keyboards in the set, as an encore.
And it is perhaps those last few words that show my only downside of seeing Panic Room at Fibbers. There always seems to be something wrong with the sound-mix. As ever, Anne-Marie’s vocals were top-notch (it’s not for nothing that she was voted best female vocalist of 2010 by readers of Classic Rock’s Prog spin-off magazine), Yatim’s bass-playing is always clear (and entertaining – tonight he was quite literally climbing the speakers) and drummers always seem well-catered for in the sound department. But, while Paul’s guitar-playing is brilliant (and, from his facial expressions, he sometimes seems to enjoy playing a little too much…) it never quite seems loud enough and I always struggle to pick out Jonathan’s keyboards, unless it’s during a solo spell.
But that’s a small niggle in an otherwise excellent set. The band obviously enjoy playing together and there is a noticeable chemistry between them on stage, with Anne-Marie and Paul trading looks and smiles that seem to imply they are sharing a secret joke. Definitely one of the best live bands around and I hope they continue to grace York with their presence for some time to come.