For a while, it seemed like a Panic Room concert was always somewhere in my future but, until last night's concert in Tavistock, I had not seen the band live for over two years. That sums up the stark reality of moving back to Cornwall after spending three years in Leicester. The last time I saw the band was in Derby in June 2013, which was the day before I left Leicester for good to come back home. The band I saw that night were a band in transition. Guitarist Paul Davies had left, and Morpheus Rising axeman Pete Harwood was temporarily filling the void. It was still a great evening of live music, but did not quite match up to the date I saw on the Skin tour in Leicester's Y Theatre the previous year. Since then, the band's fourth album Incarnate has been released, and another guitarist in Adam O'Sullivan has come and gone. I missed a whole album touring cycle, something which I am annoyed with myself for - but I suppose now I am a member of the 'real world' I cannot do everything! 2015 seems to have been a great year for the band however. Dave Foster (who plays with Mr. So & So and The Steve Rothery Band) has joined the band as their new full-time guitarist, and an album of acoustic re-workings called Essence has just been released. Earlier in the year, the band embarked on the ambitious Wildfire tour, which saw the band playing both acoustic and electric sets, to great reviews. We are currently part-way through the second leg of this tour, and it brought the band back to Tavistock Wharf for their first show there since 2010! Gigs at The Wharf are always great, and this proved to be no exception. While the turnout was not exactly great (I expected better on a Saturday night!), the crowd there was very vocal, and all in attendance seemed to be really into what the band were doing.
The evening started off with an eight-song acoustic set from the band, which warmed the crowd up nicely for the rocking electric set to come. It also gave the band a chance to show off some of the new arrangements of old sounds found on Essence, and the two new songs written specifically for that album. Anne-Marie Helder (vocals/guitar/flute/percussion) was in excellent form all evening, sounded as good as she ever has. She is a captivating and dynamic frontwoman, and her vocal skills are always impressive. Song for Tomorrow was a good opening number, and worked well in it's stripped back form. Screens also worked well. The synth lead was replaced by Yatim Halimi's (bass guitar/vocals) funky bass riff, and he locked in well with Gavin Griffiths (drums/percussion) who was playing a cajón for the opening few numbers of the set. I liked all the new arrangements, but it was the new number Denial that was the highlight of the first set. It is a bluesy number, that moves between acoustic and rock sections, and is a perfect showcase for Foster's guitar playing. There were plenty explosive lead sections here, that were a taste of what was to come later in the set. I deliberately did not listen to Essence before seeing this show, as I wanted to experience the new arrangements live first. After seeing this, I am very excited to sit down with the album and really digest it.
After a short break, the band came back for the 'main' part of the set, which contained tracks from all of their four studio albums. Opening with the murky Into Temptation from Incarnate worked really well, and Foster's guitar skills were shown once again to be exemplary - he is probably the best guitarist they have ever had! Missing the entire Incarnate tour, it was great to hear some of those songs live. Four were included throughout, and they came across really well in my opinion. It was also great to hear Yasuni live again. That was always an early favourite of mine from the band's repertoire, and it has been absent from live sets for a little while now. Other early highlights for me were Picking Up Knives and the beautiful The Fall which never fails to conjure up plenty of emotions live. Helder sings it with such passion, and the rest of the band back her up with ease and finesse. Waterfall was another new one for me live. Jonathan Edward's keyboards really make this song, and the upbeat nature of it was a great contrast to the darker preceding numbers. The second half of the set saw the inclusion of some of the band's longer, more epic songs. The jazzy Chameleon always works well live, and the new arrangement with an ending flute solo from Helder adds to the song and makes it better than the original album version. The soaring ballad Skin is another emotional moment, and is probably one of my favourite Panic Room numbers these days. The way Helder sings it is amazing, and the whole arrangement is just great. The heavy Hiding the World shook things up a little, again Foster showcasing his almost-metal tendencies at times, before the swirling and dark Dust brought the main set to an end. Edwards' big piano chords drive this song, and it makes for a powerful ending number. There was time for one more song however, and the band came back to play an extended version of Sandstorms which saw each musician take a solo, which gave the song a 1970s jam feel. The setlist was:
Song for Tomorrow
Rain & Tears & Burgundy
I am a Cat
Freedom to Breathe
Picking Up Knives
Hiding the World
Overall, this was a fantastic gig from Panic Room. It is quite possibly the best concert of theirs that I have seen, and all five band members were on fire. I believe this is the band's line-up the band have had, and I really look forward to hearing what they come up with on their fifth studio album whenever that is due. There are still some dates left on this Wildfire tour, so get down to one if you can!