Panic Room at The Citadel, St Helens - live review

Dave Foster's home-coming gig with Panic Room

the crowd at a prog gig
(Image: © Katja Ogrin)

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The compactly designed yet deceptively spacious Citadel venue is comfortably full for Panic Room tonight, and it has become a regular haunt for the band. This evening’s show is a celebration on two fronts, with guitarist Dave Foster hailing from St Helens, and frontwoman Anne-Marie Helder having marked her birthday the previous day.

The crowd duly turn out in highly vocal numbers to turn the evening into a raucous party-cum-homecoming. There’s a crackling atmosphere in the room even before the proceedings begin, helped by the onstage mood lighting, candles and, bizarrely, a small model duck.

When the band arrive onstage, the introductory double of Apocalypstick and Velocity, from the first and fourth albums respectively, proves majestic. The former particularly eclipses its studio original as it’s transformed into a sinewy, Egyptian-sounding invocation, with the black silk-clad Helder almost trance-like. It’s an opening that’s hard for the rest of the set to live up to, but there’s too much quality in the Panic Room catalogue to allow any lapses to last for long. Indeed, there’s so much variety and eclecticism in the group’s repertoire now as to defy categorisation – as well as the aforementioned opener, there’s some bluesy, soulful balladry, plenty of good old-fashioned prog, delightfully deft acoustic-based pieces, and one or two blasts of heavy riffery that border on metal.

Towering over all of this, however, throughout the two-part set, is the overriding sense of melody and the consistent adherence to the maxim that the song is king. The core of Helder, keyboardist Jonathan Edwards and former Mostly Autumn drummer Gavin Griffiths have been together since the band’s inception, with nimble-fingered bassist Yatim Halimi joining in 2010. However, perhaps the biggest boost to the band’s live sound has been the 2015 addition of Foster, whose combination of lightning-fast fretboard excursions with sensitive and tasteful musical colouring, as the mood demands, is exceptional. He also sports the widest pair of flares seen in these parts in many a year, and that can only be a good thing!

A surprise omission from the set is the band’s anthem of sorts, the superb Satellite, but the fact that this is hardly missed speaks volumes. One very welcome surprise is the new arrangement of Helder’s Wheels Within Wheels, but the highlight is the dark and sinister Dust, which is dedicated to the Manchester bomb victims, and the crowd is hushed as Helder delivers it with chilling, deathly reverence. It’s simply stunning.

A massive ovation greets the conclusion of the set, with the clear message that the band will be welcomed back with open arms. Do not panic!