Panic Room have taken numerous risks tonight. For one, they’re playing on a Sunday, which even for hardened gig-goers normally means a night in front of the telly. They’ve also booked a show in the same week as two monumental progressive rock concerts – Steven Wilson and David Gilmour, both at the Royal Albert Hall.
The odds are stacked against them, but as the punters trickle down Soho’s side street into The Borderline, any concerns dissipate. Outside the streets are eerily silent, normally host to London’s clamorous after-work liggers and weekend revellers, but inside the venue is a hub of quiet anticipation, and the stage – decked out in velvet, candles and flowers, and bathed in red light – is a warm and welcoming focal point for the evening.
There are no support bands. Instead we’re treated to two varying sets from Panic Room. First, an hour of semi-acoustic numbers and, after a short interval, a 90-minute fully electric performance. Needless to say, it’s a real treat for the fans, but more importantly, it reveals this Welsh outfit’s versatility as musicians.
The acoustic set is brilliant, any allusions to campfire sing-songs or lazy, unplugged renditions quickly dissipating when they begin Song For Tomorrow. Of course it helps that Anne-Marie Helder’s voice is simply exquisite, but they’ve put a lot of effort into reworking the songs to suit this new guise.
“Some of you didn’t like this one but you do now – it’s been ‘acoustasised’ and it has a bar-brawl feel,” says Helder, before lurching into I Am A Cat. And she’s right – it does sound better, and so does Promises, whose dampening of electric guitar highlights some fantastically melodious tinkling from Jon Edwards on the keys.
Rain & Tears & Burgundy from their crowdfunded new album Essence is one of the highlights, even when Helder breaks a string. Its country-esque melancholy, peppered by hints of sunshine, is an alluring concoction.
Although he sneaked in some electric parts during the first set, the plugged-in ‘headline’ show partly belongs to Dave Foster. Borrowed from the Steve Rothery Band, where he resides with his Panic Room bandmate, bassist Yatim Halimi, the newly acquired guitarist fits in perfectly. His clean, sonorous riffs lift the songs to a new level, especially on Freedom To Breathe, where his solos dazzle, and on the sultry Chameleon.
The textured, atmospheric compositions sit so well against Helder’s graceful lyrics, but she really excels on Apocalypstick, for which she receives rapturous applause, and she leaving no one in any doubt that she’s a Prog-certified, outstanding singer.