In the absence of the traditional Christmas Panic Room shows due to drummer Gavin Griffuths’ commitments with Fish, Luna Rossa, the acoustic duo comprising Anne-Marie Helder and Jon Edwards, are playing three December dates. The first two were both in Wales, at The Gate in Cardiff, followed by The Chattery in Swansea.
As with their headline shows last year, they’re playing as an expanded foursome including Sarah Dean on harp and backing vocals and Andy Coughlan on bass, both of whom had guested on the band’s second album “Secrets and Lies”.
Sarah Dean played a short solo set as the support. It was a spine-tinglingly beautiful performance, featuring harp-driven folk numbers from her EPs “Blueprints” and “Cloudstreets”, ending with a superb spaghetti-western flavoured cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Man in the Long Black Coat”.
Luna Rossa are a complete contrast to the wide-scale cinematic rock of Panic Room, and the live experience has a quite different vibe even to Panic Room’s semi-acoustic sets. The songs are stripped down and intimate, the piano and vocal duo the heart of the sound, with the bass and harp as added colour, as is the occasional appearance of Anne-Marie’s flute. The emphasis is on Anne-Marie’s remarkable vocals, and we see a rather different side of her than we do when she’s fronting Panic Room.
The setlist ran through much of “Secrets and Lies” with a few highlights from the début. There were too many high spots to list them all, but they included the cover of Todd Rundgren’s “Tiny Demons”, the emotive title track of “Secrets and Lies”, and the evocative “Fly Away” which showcased Sarah Dean’s harp playing. They also threw in a remarkable cover of Abba’s “The Winner Takes It All”, and “La Clef” turned into an extended jam between Jon Edwards and Andy Coughlan in which they exchanged riffs and motifs from classic rock standards by the likes of Deep Purple and Yes. They encored with the stunningly beautiful new number “Christmastime” and the entertainingly silly “Happy Little Song” which included a few bars of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer”.
The set was much the same for the two gigs, though a couple of songs were dropped the second night, one of them “Gasp” which relied heavily on backing tapes. But the vibe was quite different the two nights. The Gate is a far larger venue with concert-level PA; the band were blessed with a superb sound mix in which you could hear everything clearly without Sarah’s harp being drowned out by Jon’s grand piano. The Chattery in contrast was a tiny café, the perfect size for the audience of thirty or so. It gave a lovely intimate feel as if the band were playing in your front room. It was also wonderful to see the level of respect given to the band; you could hear a pin drop while they were playing, then the venue erupted into applause louder than the band at the end of the song. Just what we’d all like to hear far more of.
Luna Rossa have one more date on this tour, at The Robin 2 in Bilston on Sunday 13th of December.