Gig review: PANIC ROOM – The Citadel, St. Helens, 9 May 2015

PANIC ROOM - The Citadel, St. Helens, 9 May 2015

The last time we caught up with Panic Room was at the Zanzibar Club in Liverpool during last summer’s World Cup – a venue that, at best, can be described as ‘grimy’.  The Citadel has seen equally better days.  A rather charming two tiered ‘theatre’ style venue it gets a small audience ‘up close and personal’ with the stage, but its Victorian charm is visibly peeling.

Brigaded under the ‘Wildfire Tour’ banner, the current tour revisits the band’s four excellent studio albums with semi-acoustic and electric sets, the former trailing a forthcoming acoustic re-workings album.  It also introduces Dave Foster on guitar, who steps in following the brief tenancy of Adam O’Sullivan whose art school style just didn’t seem to gel with the band’s rockier material.

Foster, having worked with bassist Yatim Halimi in the Steve Rothery Band, comes with a much more aligned pedigree – his own solo album Gravity (2011) being a particularly impressive piece of work demonstrating his dexterity across a range of styles and well worth seeking out.

Opening with a 45 minute semi-acoustic set – and giving a flavour of their forthcoming Kickstarter-funded acoustic album -  it was nice to see a band willing to experiment and reinterpret its back catalogue in different styles.  ‘Song For Tomorrow’ was given a bossa nova makeover, ‘Screens’ a jazz vibe and ‘Sunshine’ a sublime, stripped back piano/vocals treatment.

PANIC ROOM - The Citadel, St. Helens, 9 May 2015

‘Rain And Tears And Burgundy’ – a new number – augured well for the forthcoming acoustic album, but the highlight was a ‘reggae’ infused version of ‘Black Noise’ with a stupendous Stranglers/Peaches-style bass line, and not far behind it, ‘Firefly’ – another gorgeous piano/vocals re-working complemented by sparse bluesy guitar flurries.

It was a marvellous ‘scene setter’ for the second set which saw the band firing on all five cylinders and it was noticeable on the driving ‘Freedom To Breathe’ that everyone on stage looked like they were having a thoroughly good time.  It was nice to see, and plenty of other bands could learn a lesson or two here in ‘lightening up’.

In the review of that Zanzibar gig 12 months ago I concluded the band needed a close season ‘big money signing’ if they were to challenge for silverware next term.  It would appear that in bringing Foster into the fold they might just have pulled that off.  Only his sixth gig, it’s still ‘early days’, but Panic Room seemed a much more cohesive unit for his presence.  And the new ‘diamond formation’ with Jon Edwards at the base, and Anne-Marie Helder spearheading and flanked by Halimi and Foster looked to be a winning one.

PANIC ROOM - The Citadel, St. Helens, 9 May 2015

For a gig that stretched to just over two-and-a-half hours, it was telling just how all too quickly it seemed to pass.  A thoroughly engaging performance – Halimi could have been Duracell-powered such was the energy of his bass runs and he re-visited his earlier Jean Jacques Burnel impersonation with some more inspired lines on the outstanding ‘Satellite’.  There was also some wonderful improvisation between Edwards, Foster and Anne-Marie on flute amidst ‘Chameleon’, and Gavin Griffiths on drums and percussion was rock solid throughout.

With any ‘best of’ set there’s always going to be quibbles about inclusions and omissions, but no-one could argue about closing with ‘Sandstorms’ – a quite magnificent number by anyone’s standards.   For such an accomplished player, I’d still like to see Jon Edwards take a little more of the spotlight, but on the whole it was a supremely well balanced set, by a group that looked back at the top of their game.

Semi-acoustic Set:  Song For Tomorrow/ Screens / I Am A Cat / Sunshine / Black Noise / Rain And Tears and Burgundy / Firefly / Promises
Electric Set:  Into Temptation / Freedom To Breathe / Tightrope Walking / Yasuni / Waterfall / The Fall / Incarnate / Chameleon / Skin / Apocalypstick / Dust / Hiding The World.  Encores: Satellite / Sandstorms

Review by Pete Whalley
Photos by David Randall

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