Review: Panchiko at House of Blues; Over 20 Years in the Making

Imagine, if you will, that you’re a teacher in your early to mid 30s in the small British town of Sherwood, Nottingham. While not particularly luxurious or grandly remarkable, your life is comfortable and at least somewhat satisfying. One day you receive a mysterious Facebook message from what appears to be a complete stranger asking about a short-lived band that you sang in back in high school. You assume this must be someone, maybe one of your students, messing with you; considering the band in question only ever released one EP (titled D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L) and only burned about 35 copies onto CD in the year 2000 (far before internet advancements in music cataloguing). How could anyone have even found out about it? Now imagine your surprise when you’re told that a tape-rot ridden copy of the CD had been found at a thrift store and ripped onto YouTube. Not only are people aware of these decades-defunct songs you wrote, they now have a cult following in the tens of thousands, many of whom have spent the better part of a decade exhausting every possible lead in hopes of finding a clean recording of the EP and, more importantly, the people who made it: you and your high school buddies. This is the reality of Owain Davies, lead singer of Panchiko.

Panchiko’s backstory provides a necessary glimpse into the positive influence the internet and internet culture can have on music. In a world of AI-generated rap songs, here-today-gone-tomorrow viral TikTok artists, and unceremoniously demystifying unwritten rules of production that have stood for decades, the internet’s relationship with music is complicated at best and detrimental at worst. However, the “music internet” is not simply an algorithm that churns out artists and singles based on streaming performance, it is also the sum of its inhabitants in front of the screen; a global community of amateur bloggers, critics, and historians who see the information superhighway as a means to further celebrate music rather than commodify it for profit. Without the internet, and more importantly the music geeks on it, Panchiko would just be another lost relic in the memories of a small handful of people, D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L would just be another old CD in a thrift store that eventually made its way to the trash. Instead, thanks to the curiosity and tenacity of the internet music community, they’re headlining and selling out House of Blues. This is not lost on the band either, as Owain Davies said himself on stage, “We still can’t believe we’re here. It’s a real honor and privilege to play for you.”

The show opened with two magnificently named bands: LSD and the Search For God, who provided loud and euphoric shoegaze, and Horse Jumper of Love, who brought a tasteful and contemplative mix of post-rock and slow-core, reminiscent of artists like Low and Duster. Both openers held the attention of the audience, and wet our collective appetite for the indie-pop white whale we were about to witness. Panchiko took the stage with the sort of anti-rockstar aura you would expect from a band that had been entirely washed away by history until a couple short years ago. Each member (especially the three remaining founding members: guitarist and vocalist Owain Davies, bassist Shaun Ferreday, and guitarist and vocalist Andy Wright) of the band seemed genuinely shocked and humbled when they walked out on stage to a packed house of adoring fans. It was deeply wholesome seeing these grown men turn back into gleeful teenagers as they began playing together; over 20 years after what they assumed would be their last gig.

The setlist opened with an extended trip down adolescent memory lane for the band, hopping back and forth between D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L favorites (“Stabilizers For Big Boys,” “Sodium Chloride,” and “CUT”) and early deep cuts from Ferric Oxide; a compilation of demos the band made from 1997-2001 that finally saw the light of day in 2020. Around the 20-minute mark of the set the band took its first major (but necessary) risk; playing the new stuff live.

Panchiko’s 2023 sophomore album, Failed at Math(s) could have easily been a passionless cash-grab by the band to capitalize on their sudden underground success and financial viability as musicians. Many “comeback” albums from long defunct bands meet this fate. Failed at Math(s), however, was not only met with critical praise, but fully embraced by Panchiko’s cult fanbase as a continuation of the band’s unearthing from history. There was no question that these songs were written by the same people who wrote D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L, the primary difference in the two albums is the 20 or so years of life experience (and indie-tronic music progression) that Panchiko had at their disposal.

The title track of Failed at Math(s) opens with a stuttering synth that quickly folds into an eclectic dream pop soundscape for Davies’ vocals to delicately glide through. Brief (intentional) glitches of noise pepper the track, no doubt an homage to the tape-rot on the original CD that was found and posted on the internet. The live performance of “Failed at Math(s)” particularly impressed as the band added a much more rock-forward texture to the song, showing an awareness of the dynamics necessary to fill a room the size of the House of Blues.

“Laputa,” another D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L standout, came near the end of the set and truly emphasized the tenderness of Davies’ songwriting; the live version was even more stripped-back than its recorded version, allowing the lullaby-like vocal melody to whisk the sold-out audience away into a haze of youthful reminiscence. After this comparatively quiet palate cleanser, Panchiko launched headfirst into “Gwen Everest,” the heaviest and noisiest song in their catalogue, sharpening a garage rock edge they rarely (but effectively) utilize.

The set fittingly ended with “D>E>A>T>H>M>E>T>A>L,” and “Kicking Cars,” the first and lost songs on that original EP they released all the way back in the year 2000. The crowd sang along to every single word I’ve both, with the occasional “We love you!” shouted from the crowd to the band during vocal pauses. By the end of the show, all four men on stage were beaming so wide I could see each of their teeth from the eighth-or-so row of the crowd. This image reinforced one of the evergreen truths of life: playing music with your friends is one of the greatest joys in the world, it just doesn’t always make you famous. But then again, sometimes it does. Twenty years later.

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Aviv Hart