Panic Room @ The Robin, Bilston – 12 December 2012

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Review by Paul Quinton

A second visit to the Robin in 2012 for the excellent Swansea-based outfit Panic Room, still touring in support of their first album for the Esoteric-Antenna label ‘Skin’. This bill pulled a pretty decent crowd into The Robin, considering the unspeakable weather and the band responded by putting on a pretty terrific show, and ended the year on a pretty triumphant note.

Support on the night came from Yorkshire metal band Morpheus Rising and solo guitarist Howard Sinclair but it was undoubtedly Panic Room the audience had come to see, and there was a huge cheer when the lights went down and the intro tape began just before nine o’clock. As has been the case since Skin was released, the set opener was the track many seem to think is the standout on the album, ‘Song for Tomorrow’ and first impression was how good the sound was and how tight the band were. Clearly the touring they’ve done over the year has done them a power of good. They’ve always been a pretty solid unit, but this was ridiculously tight. Unlike a lot of their contemporaries on the current Prog scene, Panic Room have never sounded as influenced by early Genesis or Marillion, they’re not precious about genres, being as content to let Jonathan Edwards play some solos reminiscent of Steely Dan in ‘Chameleon’, as they are letting bassist Yatim Halimi funk up a song like ‘Promises’, and this tightness and confidence in each other as players allowed them to play on, pretty much without missing a beat such as when Halimi’s bass gave up during ‘Reborn’.

As good as the show was you could have one or two reservations about the set-list. I would have much preferred to hear something else from their first two albums, rather than the blues revamp of ELP’s ‘Bitches Crystal’ that’s been in the set for a while. As it was we only heard ‘Reborn’ and ‘Apocalypstick’ from the rather wonderful debut, with the latter being the nearest thing to a full-on prog epic in the band’s set these days, full of Eastern rhythms and guitar solos, all topped off by Anne-Marie Helder’s seductive vocals. As usual, for all the musical excellence of the rest of the band, she really is the band’s ace up the collective sleeve. There really aren’t many better singers on the UK scene at the moment, as well as being a good musician in her own right, giving the band its unique voice and live personality. This was best shown on the full-band version of a song from her solo EP, Blood Red Skies, where, after a gentle acoustic opening, the band steam into the song giving full weight to Anne-Marie’s lyrical warning of impending doom.

After closing the main set with ‘Hiding The World’, fittingly described by Anne-Marie as the heaviest song the band do, Anne-Marie opened the encores with a solo reading of the Christmas carol ‘O Holy Night’, accompanied only by Jonathan Edwards on piano. Both were wearing coats, no doubt to make things feel a little wintery, rather than a comment on the heating in The Robin, and this was followed by an impassioned and touching speech from guitarist Paul Davies, who thanked his band mates and the crowd for their support and for everything good that happened over the previous year, after which the band went into the big singalong title track from Satellite. This has previously ended the set, but tonight the band added a final touch, playing a cheerfully partying ‘Sandstorms’, being joined by Morpheus Rising’s Pete Harwood for some guitar duelling with Paul Davies, while Anne-Marie threw chocolates out into the crowd, all of which was going on while drummer Gavin Griffiths was trying to cope with a broken snare.

As usual, this was a quality set from Panic Room, packed with fine songs and a genuine warmth between band and audience. With three bands and a headline set of over two and a half hours, no-one could complain about value for money, and it now looks time for the band to consolidate all the good things that have happened to them in 2012 and move onwards and upwards in 2013. They look more than ready to take their chance.