A centrally placed microphone stand, bedecked in flowers and glittering silver butterflies, awaits singer Anne-Marie Helder’s arrival, and with candles illuminating the amplifiers to the rear, it’s a stage set that adds a welcome beauty to a rather lacklustre venue.
That’s not to say Sound Control is grim, but there’s the nagging sensation that this band deserve more than sticky floors and the odour of last night’s stale lager. Indeed, that sentiment encapsulates the Panic Room quandary. How can such a blatantly gifted band be performing in front of around 100 sparsely scattered punters in places like this?
Rightly, there’s not even a glimmer of disillusionment displayed by the band, and with a set that extends to over two-and-a-half hours, Panic Room are determined to put on a show worthy of their abilities. Helder is a compelling focal point, singing with compassion and emotion on songs such as Yasuni and Start The Sound. In bassist Yatim Halimi and drummer Gavin Griffiths, they have one of the finest rhythm sections around. Guitarist Dave Foster is equally comfortable with frenetic metallic solos or laid-back, soaring melodies, and in the shadows, Jonathan Edwards retains the air of a conductor, adding elegant keyboards while keeping a hawkish eye on the band.
The set is career-encompassing, taking songs from all albums. Waterfall is performed with delicate aplomb, before the perky chorus provides an emotional lift. Chameleon is pitch perfect, Helder briefly disappearing through the clear plastic sheeting that separates stage from dressing room, reappearing with a flute to add flourishes to the song’s finale.
Those lingering notes signal the end of their first set and after a brief intermission they return with the brooding Into Temptation. For all their numerous inspired moments, there are natural standout songs that elevate their music further. Freedom To Breathe remains a nimble and polished high point, and while Screens is similarly potent, it’s the delight in watching this band perform the bluesy Denial that provides an unexpected twist – the combination of Foster’s guitar and Helder’s passionate vocals is simultaneously overwhelming and refreshing. Satellite is a predictable but winning finale, although it’s clear that the band’s decision to dedicate the song to a friend who had passed away only hours earlier is traumatic, with Helder appearing close to tears.
It’s saddening and maddening that Panic Room aren’t achieving the acclaim and audience numbers their music and talent deserve. They’re a captivating band and with performances as adept as this, their fortunes have to change.