Review By Paul Quinton
This was the penultimate show on what Panic Room have called their ‘Summer Skin’ tour, another series of dates based around their ‘Skin’ album from last year, and it was a very hot and sweaty Robin that greeted them, after a typically brisk and lively set from support band Morpheus Rising. Panic Room have undergone something of an upheaval since they last played the Robin, shortly before Christmas last year, in that guitarist and founder member, Paul Davies, has now left the band. With no news as yet of a permanent replacement, six-string duties on this tour were carried out by Morpheus Rising’s Pete Harwood, and with Panic Room being on stage for over two hours tonight, it would be a busy night for him.
Tonight’s set was mostly the same as the one they’ve played around the country since ‘Skin’ was released and, to be frank, there were few surprises tonight. Panic Room usually play two shows a year at The Robin, and by my calculations, this would be the third time that this particular set has been played at this venue. That’s not to say the band played badly, or that there’s anything wrong with the band’s material, just that anyone who turned up hoping to hear some new material, even a track or two from the Anne-Marie Helder and Jonathan Edwards side project, Luna Rossa, was going to be disappointed. To be fair to the band, they’d obviously tried really hard to work some variation into the existing material. ‘Reborn’ had an extended instrumental intro, and also featured an impromptu walkabout from bassist Yatim Halimi, who looked as surprised as anyone when he was joined by Pete Harwood, ‘Screens’ hit a groove you wouldn’t normally associate with a highly melodic prog band like Panic Room, and for all that they’re using a stand-in guitarist, a lot of the instrumental passages show how good a unit they can be.
Other highlights in the set included a scorching ‘Picking Up Knives’, ‘Tightrope Walking’ where the line-up really gelled and became a really tight unit, and a thunderous ‘Apocalypstick’, which not only featured some nicely heavy riffing from Pete Harwood, but also gave all the individual members a real chance to shine. This was especially true of Anne Marie Helder who really let that superb voice fly and finally made herself heard. Sadly for the rest of the set, it had been quite hard to hear her on her quieter passages, often drowned out by Gavin Griffiths’ drums, which, good as they are, regularly dominated the sound mix. There was also a welcome return for her flute playing, during the instrumental part of ‘Chameleon’, something that went down really well with the crowd.
As for the new boy, if you can call him that, he did a pretty good job. There was some very nice soloing on ‘Chameleon’ and ‘Apocalypstick’, and if Anne–Marie had to remind him to switch from electric to acoustic for ‘Freefalling’, for the great part of the set this line-up really came together, and looked to be a really tight unit, rather than an interim one, although any band with this rhythm section is going to have a head start. Both Yatim Halimi and Gavin Griffiths were on top form and together they’re a highly impressive unit.
Obviously there was a lot to like about this gig, but I do have repeat my opinion that the set-list needed more to freshen it up, at least in the absence of any new material. The cover version of ELP’s ‘Bitches Crystal’, for example, has surely outlived its usefulness, and I’d would much rather have heard something from the rest of the band’s back catalogue. The band will be writing and recording over the next few months and will have to make a permanent decision about a new guitarist. Pete Harwood looks a pretty good fit, assuming he wants the job, but it’s clearly a decision the band will take their time over, and for now we can only wait for the new album and the next chapter in the band’s career.