Panic Room, live in London review

Two sets for the price of one from Panic Room in London

Panic Room on stage in London
(Image: © James Sharrock)

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Panic Room are offering double the pleasure tonight: playing two sets because they’re being filmed for a concert DVD. The first performance starts at an ungodly – or rather, un-rock’n’roll-y – 6pm on a Sunday evening, although it beats going to church. Singer and multi-instrumentalist Anne-Marie Helder has clearly dressed for the occasion, all flowing apparel and bling head-gear.

Did someone say church? She has about her the air – the aura – of a character worthy of worship. Indeed, she only has to whisper the word “Promises” – the title of a track from the band’s 2012 album, Skin – and the (male-centric) audience are in raptures.

Panic Room wander freely through their five albums. And while we’re here to celebrate the band and be transported, we are reminded early on that reality increasingly impinges on escapist fantasy in this dangerous day and age. Dust, from 2014’s Incarnate, was, Helder says, written in the aftermath of a chemical attack on Syria. It starts off with a smattering of cymbals and an ominous low rumble of piano, as Helder’s voice pierces the dark like a light in the night sky of a bomb-torn city. She moans in middle-eastern tongues as the song builds to a climax, and the only thing preventing full immersion in the tableau is the extraneous whooping from the crowd.

The second set kicks off with Firefly – opening with just voice and piano and then a filigree of guitar shade – from 2015’s Essence, but it could be a power ballad from any era. If you’re a fan, you’ll consider Panic Room timeless; less enthralled observers might dismiss them as old fashioned. Song For Tomorrow is fiercer, rockier, with guitars to the fore and an insistent drum attack, eliciting rhythmic handclaps from the assembled as the hall is shrouded in dry ice. Tightrope Walking is, like a lot of Panic Room songs, midtempo and brooding, with a sense of throbbing foreboding typified by Apocalypstick.

And yet there is an easy melodic quality here that could, in times more conducive to this sort of sound, capture a wider audience – one is reminded variously, listening to this goth-lite rock, of bands as disparate as Heart and All About Eve, or Kate Bush (only with all the idiosyncrasies ironed out); acts who would get played on daytime radio and had a strong commercial presence. For now, though, Panic Room are a cult concern, albeit one with a fanatical following who, conversely, appear to enjoy their status as a secret sect to which only the special few are privy.

Paul Lester

Paul Lester is the editor of Record Collector. He began freelancing for Melody Maker in the late 80s, and was later made Features Editor. He was a member of the team that launched Uncut Magazine, where he became Deputy Editor. In 2006 he went freelance again and has written for The Guardian, The Times, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph, Classic Rock, Q and the Jewish Chronicle. He has also written books on Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Bjork, The Verve, Gang Of Four, Wire, Lady Gaga, Robbie Williams, the Spice Girls, and Pink.