British progressive rockers Panic Room are now four albums into their career and they have been producing some inspiring and staggering music for a fair few years now separating them from the glut of female fronted prog rock bands the British scene is full of. This Wildfire Tour was a celebration of their career in the still stunning Fleece, with a night made up of two sets, the first an acoustic set hinted at on their last tour and also in the wake of their all acoustic pledge music album. The second set was their impressive, passionate electric set finishing things off loudly.
Bang on 8pm I walked into the Fleece awaiting the 8:15 start time, which came and went, then at 8:45 the band came on the stage strapped on their acoustics and kicked things off with Song For Tomorrow which was a jazzy number driven by drummer Gavin Griffiths' drumbox and the keys of Jonathan Edwards who was unfortunately tucked away at the back of the stage leaving the front of the stage to be dominated by bassist Yatim Halimi, frontwoman Anne-Marie Helder who also plays a mean rhythm guitar while bewitching with her vocals on songs like the jaunty Cat. For a band that seem to have a problem with lead guitarists they unveiled their latest lead guitarist Dave Foster who swapped between acoustic and electric leads and melodies during this set. The band moved through the set with aplomb giving the gig an almost fireside feel, Screens (one of my favourites) was funky in acoustic mode and they even experimented a bit turning one of their heavier tracks Black Noise into a reggae song (and adding a whole new aspect to the lyrics). There was a relaxed feel that throughot the set with Helder sipping wine and the band laughing and joking throughout especially with 'new boy' Foster. The band took this opportunity to debut a new song Rain & Tears & Burgundy which is a true acoustic song laid back and emotive. The set finished with Firefly and Promises by which time everyone was well warmed up and after a brief break the band were back for their electric set.
This set opened with the awesome Into Temptation which saw Helder showing off her pipes and her prowling the stage in her Rock Goddess mode, her range is magnificent and as they plunged straight into the rocker Freedom To Breathe it was evident why she is constantly nominated at the classic rock awards, she has the kind of voice that could make Pink Floyd's The Great Gig In The Sky look easy, she is also a multi instrumentalist taking up her Fender Telecaster for many of the songs as well as a bongo on Tightrope Walking and the obligatory flute on the slinky Chameleon. Still this is very much a band effort as Jonathan Edwards is veteran of the scene and is a keyboard and synth wizard providing the majority of the bands sound, on the Eastern influenced Yasuni he goes a bit ELP and also on the The Waterfall which is poppier proposition with a New Age leaning that the band do so well. The band are anchored by the superb drumming of Griffiths who has won numerous awards for his skills he can rumble with the best of them on the rockier tracks but he can also play subtle on more laid back tracks like the romantic The Fall, he is aided by his partner in crime Yatim who plays 'lead' bass driving much of the rhythm. This tour was a celebration of the bands career and they drew tracks from their four albums with Incarnate from their latest album preceding Apocalypstick which comes from their debut, it was great for an old Roomie (the name for their fans) like me to hear the old stuff especially when it has an amazing keyboard solo from Edwards and indeed an incredible guitar solo from Foster. This man is a talent and a half and I hope he stays for the duration his solos and lead playing was spot on throughout considering this gig was his fourth with the band having only a month to learn the songs! He knows when to use his speed techniques, but he also plays with soul and passion. Skin moved into the heavy Darkstar which still has that beautiful organ opening before the riffs kick in.
The set ended strongly with the creeping Dust and a track that could be an alt-rock number one Hiding In The World, Panic Room has always been a band to adapt their sound moving away from their early 'classic' prog sound to a more accessible progressive style however their defining moment is still their jaw dropping epic Satellite which despite being a beautifully crafted song is a bit morbid and sad, the band thought this to so their parting shot was the also fantastic Sandstorms where Helder gets in touch with her inner Kate Bush leaving us with a an upbeat number (this is a celebration after all). A simply staggering set from one the UK's best kept secrets, a band with such a wide appeal that they really should be more well known than they are. Go and see this band when they are next on tour I promise you won't be disappointed, this could be in my top gigs of 2015. 10/10