It’s not often that the two greatest loves of my life (outside of family, and chocolate) combine – a Joe Satriani album cover is the only occasion that readily springs to mind – so when Alex Cromarty, fresh from his heroics on drums few days ago and with left hand now un-bandaged, announced that the first original song of his set was about superheroes and that his Dad collects comics and he likes comics himself, I was intrigued. After de-reggaeing No Woman No Cry, during which he altered his vocal tone by changing distance from the mic, adding his own touches to The Way You Make Me Feel and admitting that he didn’t normally play “nice” gigs like this, with monitors and everything, this first original was a lovely song about said superhero just wanting a bit of love and TLC. With both, now fully-functioning hands involved in playing the guitar, Cromarty provided his own percussion with foot and cajon. Moving on he put his own spin on Mr Brightside, slowing it down so much that, despite being naggingly familiar, it took me forever to recognise it. “I’m a pop queen,” he admitted before livening things up with his favourite song of the moment. I noted lyrics down, but the closest I can get to it is Nick Jonas’ Jealous and that can’t be right, can it? If it was, it was simply part of the one of the most eclectic set of covers I think I have ever heard, with Foo Fighters’ Learn To Fly up next. Another original, a lively long song which might have been called Lost Soul, was followed by Could You Be Loved, again almost totally de-reggaed, which closed the set and left the crowd cheering and shouting for me, a request that Cromarty smilingly declined.
For a while it looked as though York had been struck from the list of possible tour venues for Panic Room but, after an almost two year gap, they were back. As usual with this type of gig, there were plenty of familiar faces in the audience, but I had also convinced a regular gig-buddy, who hadn’t seem the band since their first time in York back in 2009, to come down. Having recently smashed through their target for a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new, acoustic album, eventually doubling the required £8,000, this tour was to consist of two sets, one acoustic and one full on electric, with the set list taken from across all four of their albums. As it turned out, the opening set ended up being semi-acoustic.
With candles, earlier placed on top of one amplifier by Yatim, providing the only light on stage, a backing track which somehow brought to mind Tears For Fears started playing. Then beams of blue light cut through the smoke (from the machine, not the candles) while green waved across it, the lights soon expanding to a full show, bathing the stage in a reddish purple as the band came on to applause from the crowd. There was more applause when Anne-Marie appeared and the set started with Song For Tomorrow. This quiet acoustic version, with a mid-section featuring just Anne-Marie accompanied by Gavin on cajon, really showcased the song’s vocals. Yatim provided a funky bass opening to Screens, which saw new guitarist Dave Foster playing a subtle, almost Blues guitar line. I Am A Cat, rightly described as “the marmite song” saw Gavin move onto drums and Anne-Marie being very expressive in her performance, while Jonathan’s keyboards were coming through nicely. Sunshine – “we live in hope…” – once again showcased Anne-Marie’s vocals, this time in a lovely, breathy way. Black Noise, one of the band’s most “metal” songs, was given a reggae makeover for the acoustic set, clearly providing a lot of fun, given the smiles on stage. It also featured another subtle solo from Dave Foster. The upcoming acoustic album, we were told, is going to feature two new songs and we got a preview tonight in the form of Rain, Tears And Burgundy, a nice song about friendship. The first set was brought to a close by Promises, Jonathan’s keyboards kicking off a song which build to a nice finale. To quote from my write-up of that 2009 gig… “My only gripe – where was the brilliant Firefly?” A question even more relevant given that I have seen it on the set-list for at least one other gig on the tour. It is one of my favourite Panic Room songs and it has never been played in York. Oh well.
After a short break the lights were dimmed again another backing track started, this one starting off atmospheric and building to rousing, while lights and lasers made for an impressive start. The electric set kicked off in slow, almost sultry style with Into Temptation. There was another nice guitar section from Dave and you got the impression he was gaining fans with every note. Unfortunately, much to her consternation, and then amusement, Anne-Marie’s guitar turned out to be unplugged at the amplifier, prompting jokes at the end of the song. The familiar opening strains of Freedom To Breathe increased the tempo and by now it was obvious that Dave was adding his own personal touches to the guitar parts, making them familiar and new at the same time. Anne-Marie seemed particularly relaxed tonight. There were “Oooo”s from the crowd as she picked up and strapped on some sort of hand-drum for Tightrope Walking. “It’s not a raffle,” she quipped back, one of the few non-political jokes that were thrown about on this election night. After the powerful Yasuni, Dave picked up a double-necked guitar for, “a watery song about travelling”, yet only played the twelve-string during a lovely rendition Waterfall which quietened the set down a bit again. Incarnate – “one of our most recent, so we should get it right, really” – saw the guitar and bass take a break to give the keyboards space to breathe. Not that it was necessary tonight at the sound was particularly good, with all the instruments coming through clearly and cleanly. The song received the biggest cheer of the night so far. Apocalypstik opened with its familiar Eastern sound which led into some very impressive vocals and an even more impressive instrumental section, while Chameleon made things, if not lighter then certainly less intense. Anne-Marie briefly left the stage during the track’s instrumental, before returning to lead it to a finale with her flute. She then explained that the next was a very heartfelt song. Originally written about a particularly nasty bombing in Syria but now about children caught up in wars around the globe, Dust was performed simply yet powerfully and ended with an almost whispered, “Thank you” as the band left the stage to the inevitable shouts for more.
Of course there was to be an encore. It wasn’t long before the band were back on, Dave’s rocky guitar line opening the first song… try as I might, though, I can’t remember what it was. I might be wrong but I don’t thing it was Satellite (which seems to have started the encore at other gigs on the tour). I do know that Sandstorms ended the evening in almost silky style compared to the previous track and that it was extended as each band member seemed to fit in a short solo section even before they were introduced by Anne-Marie and got the chance for a longer one.
Definitely a welcome return to York, seen and appreciated by a decent-sized (and mixed) crowd for our city. My gig buddy, who had been wandering around the venue all night summed it up for me when he said, “Do you know what I like about them? They aren’t too proggy…”