So the two gig-free months come to an end, and the gigging season begins again. Yet again, I’ve been putting in serious amounts of rail miles to see two gigs by Panic Room, the first at Fibbers in York, the second the following night at The Factory in Manchester. Are they really worth spending so many hours on board Arriva Cross-Country Voyagers to see? I think so, or I wouldn’t keep doing it.
Friday night was was the second time I’ve been to the recently refurbished Fibbers. It’s now more of a nightclub than a rock club, no draft beers any more, and decor that seems to lack character, and focuses on the dancefloor rather than the stage. Still, unlike in December where what turned out to have been Breathing Space’s final gig was spoiled by very poor sound, this time the venue seems to have got it’s act together in that respect, and the sound was excellent, good separation with every instrument clear.
The Factory in Manchester the following night didn’t have quite as good sound as the night before, a little bit too loud. But we did have one of the most enthusiastic audiences I’ve seen at a Panic Room gig to date. The Magnum-style arm-waving during “Satellite” was a new one on me. There was one downside, though, which I’ll come to later.
A few words on the support acts. Friday’s support was a solo acoustic singer-songwriter who’s name I forget. I find these sorts of performers rather hit-and-miss. Marc Atkinson, Chris Johnson, or for that matter Anne-Marie herself, can win over audiences with strong performances and good songs. But this guy wasn’t really in the same league. To give him some credit, he did write his own songs rather than take the easy route and play covers, but his act really needs a bit more work. Saturday’s support was David R Black, fronting an indie/metal trio who brought along a lot of their own fans and helped sell tickets for the gig. They didn’t do an awful lot for me, I’m afraid. They were musically competent, and pretty tight too, but their songs rather generic to my ears. But they weren’t really my kind of music, so I might not be the best person to judge.
As for Panic Room themselves, they more or less picked up where they left off last year. As I know I’ve said before, Yatim Halimi’s arrival as their new bass player seems to be the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle that has turned them from being a good live band to having all the makings of a great one. They’re now got the magical combination of tightness and onstage energy, all five members giving it absolutely everything and making an equally important contribution. Gavin and Yatim make a powerful rhythm section, Jon and Paul on keys and guitar perfect foils for each other, especially with a set that alternates between guitar-led and keyboard-led numbers. And of course Anne-Marie demonstrating just why she was voted Female Vocalist of the Year by readers of Classic Rock Presents Prog. And while their music has plenty of depth and complexity to satisfy progressive rock audiences, many of their songs are direct enough to give them crossover appeal.
Much as on their tour last autumn, the bulk of the set came from “Satellite”, with just two or three songs from their debut album. They’re still playing their as-yet unreleased swamp-blues cover of ELP’s “Bitches Crystal”, which I find far superior to the original. Since several songs from “Satellite” had become live favourites long before the band went into the studio to record them, there was the feeling that it was about time some new material started appearing in the set. And we got two brand-new songs, of which one, a twin-guitar prog-metal epic with a working title of “Song for Tomorrow” has all the makings of a future classic. My only regret is they’ve retired the lengthy epics from the first album. I’m not suggesting they exhume “The Dreaming”, which never really worked that well live, but “Endgame” used to be a live highlight, and it’s a song that means a lot to me personally.
One annoying thing about both venues was the way they turned into nightclubs after the gig, and the DJs started up at a volume at least twice as loud as the band had been the second the band finished playing. In this respect The Factory was far worse than Fibbers in that they started letting clubbers into the venue while the band were still on stage, which meant fans had to fight their way through the crowd to reach the exit at the end. And this was after a truncated set due to of a very strict curfew. I’ve since been told they started letting them in a good half-hour before the band finished, and their chatter was drowning out the band for those towards the back. Some were even making juvenile attempts to take the piss out of band and audience. The atmosphere as I was leaving the venue was felt vaguely threatening; it certainly wasn’t the sort of place I wanted to hang around for any time. I would recommend that Panic Room, and other bands in the same scene, give venues like this a wide berth in future. No band should be playing in a venue where their own fans do not feel safe.
Panic Room have one more gig on this leg of the tour, at The Peel in Kingston on Saturday 26th. I know the place is a bit of dive, but at least it won’t be full of lagered-up yoof at the end. Be there and see a band who I believe are now on the edge of something bigger.