This is the seventh time I’ve seen Panic Room in 2010. I’d previously seen them twice on their March tour, a couple of support gigs in April/May, a festival date in August, and at the O2 Academy in Islington two days before this gig. The latter saw a strong performance by the band, but was marred by a poor venue, and a disinterested crowd containing some really loud chatterers right down the front, and the oblivious drunk who kept barging into to people. What is it about O2 Academies that suck the rock and roll out of a gig?
Sunday’s gig at The Robin was a very different affair. The Robin 2 is one of Britain’s premier rock clubs, with a gig diary that reads like a who’s who of classic rock, prog and blues. With great lighting and acoustics they always attract decent-sized crowds, even on a Sunday night; indeed I thought there were more people than at Islington on the Friday. And naturally there were many, many familiar faces in the crowd.
Tonight the venue gave us one of the best sound mixes I’ve ever heard for Panic Room. Like many bands they’re often only as good as the soundman lets them be, and tonight he did them proud. Everyone was loud and clear, especially Paul Davies who’s shredding lead guitar has sometimes got buried in the mix in the past.
When I saw Panic Room at The Cambridge Rock Festival back in August I thought they’d raised their game for a showcase festival set. Seeing them again at a regular gig made it clear to me that the festival performance was no one-off. What’s happened is the propulsive playing of new bass player Yatim Halimi has raised the live energy of the band to a whole new level.
I know I’ve said this before, but if you’ve only ever encountered Anne-Marie Helder playing a supporting role with Mostly Autumn, or much earlier with Karnataka, seeing her front her own band is a revelation. As a vocalist she’s easily in the same league as the lead singers of those bands, with a voice of huge power, range and emotional depth. And as a frontwoman she simply dominates the stage.
The setlist consisted of pretty much the whole of their second album “Satellite”, including a couple of songs from the bonus EP included with the limited edition, about half the first album, plus their cover of the ELP’s “Bitches Crystal”, a song they’d recorded for a Classic Rock Presents cover disk that never saw the light of day due to party-pooping corporate lawyers. They’ve dropped the sprawling epics from the first album in favour of an entire shorter, punchier songs, hard rockers like “Electra City” and “5th Amendment”, the gentle acoustic “Sunshine”, and the plain bonkers “I Am A Cat”, a paean to mad cat ladies everywhere. High spot was a truly monstrous “Dark Star” with it’s Hammer House of Horror organ riff from Jon Edwards underpinned by a powerful bass groove from Yatim. They finished with a soaring rendition of the second album’s title track, in which Yatim got a round of applause for the bass solo. When was the last time you saw that happen outside of a jazz gig?