Panic Room returned to the famous Bilston Robin 2 for the second date of their short album launch tour. They’d got off to a slightly wobbly start at Fibbers in York the previous night, with a show plagued by technical and sound problems. Anne-Marie Helder’s superb voice certainly didn’t need to be swamped in reverb like that; she really doesn’t need it. The fact that it was still a very good gig demonstrated the band’s ability to triumph over adversity. The Robin, scene of many of their most memorable gigs in the past, promised to be a far better experience, and it didn’t disappoint.
The show began with a moody post-rock sounding intro featuring Anne-Marie Helder playing guitar with a violin bow, before the band exploded into the twin-guitar prog-metal of “Song for Tomorrow”, the opening number of the newly-released third album “SKIN”. They followed with a couple of older numbers, “Freedom to Breathe” and “5th Amendment”, both dynamic guitar-driven rockers, getting the show off to a very powerful start. The very enthusiastic crowd made for an electric atmosphere.
From then on the set drew heavily from the new album interspersed with a very well-chosen selection of earlier songs, and it soon became apparent just how well the new material comes over live, whether it’s the jazzy “Chameleon”, the semi-acoustic “Freefalling” or the multi-layered “Promises”, the last of which has changed significantly from the early live versions premièred last year. The emotionally powerful performance of the title track was a particular highlight. My sole quibble was the occasional use of backing tapes for some of the string quartet parts on the record. I’d love to see them perform live with a string section, even if it’s only a one-off.
Older songs included a welcome return of the environmentalist epic “Yasuni“, which the band only played once or twice last year, and a monstrous version of “Apocalypstick”, a song from their first album not played live for more than two years. They’ve kept their swamp-blues cover of “Bitches Crystal”, which in my biased opinion is vastly superior to ELP’s original.
An intense performance of the slow-burning “Tightrope Walker” with Anne-Marie playing additional eastern-style percussion bought the main set to a close, before encoring with two more new songs, the hard rock of “Hiding the World”, and the epic album closer “Nocturnal”. And if that wasn’t enough, they returned again for a final encore of “Sandstorms”.
It’s nights like this that underline what live music is all about, a band who have been getting better and better over the past four years, feeding off the energy from the audience. They’ve gone up a gear, yet again. They’ve got that rare combination of tightness and high energy you get from the very best, and now they’ve got a far greater emotional depth too, perhaps a consequence of the more personal nature of many of the new songs.
People tell me there was an important football match on that night. But when you have the opportunity to see a band this good, who really cares about football?