CONCERT REVIEW: RIVERSIDE Offers Toronto a Rollercoaster of Emotions with Phenomenal Musicianship And Charisma (April 22nd, 2022)

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Polish prog rockers of Riverside have reached their twentieth anniversary, and what better way to celebrate than to hit the road and play for fans around the world? The band is currently touring North America, and played a memorable set in Toronto on April 22nd.

Coming out of isolation after so much time spent at home could be enough of a challenge, but the band was met with an unpleasant surprise before they hit the road: the visa process to get to North America remains a complicated affair, and for Riverside the story was no different. Due to the delay in acquiring the visas for the band and crew, almost half of their tour dates had to be cancelled. That did not lower their enthusiasm though, and the band seems genuinely grateful for being able to tour after such a long time.

Before we get into the Riverside show, a few notes about the opening acts of this tour: on the US dates we have Keith Semple of The Cyberian, and on the Canadian dates, Randy McStine. Randy hit the stage around 8 PM, and performed alone on stage, with only an acoustic guitar and a pedal board as his sonic weapons. His set was relatively short, and consisted primarily of stripped versions of the material he recorded with drummer Marco Minneman. Randy made good use of the pedal board, creating sequences that would serve as a basis, and exploring scales and harmonies on top. The highlights were “Activate”, with a syncopated mid-section, and “Before”, with emotional lyrics that spoke about being disconnected or estranged from friends. Randy’s beautiful vocals and unusual musical paths were a perfect setup for what was to come.

The Opera House is a very traditional space for prog music in Toronto, having hosted concerts by Leprous and Amorphis recently. The place wasn’t packed that night, but that has less to do with lack of interest in Riverside, and more to do with the fact that Opeth and Mastodon played in the city on the same night, and received far more promotion. Never mind that – the Polish community that resides primarily in the Roncesvalles suburb was excited to see their compatriots live, and the excitement was palpable.

The band reached the stage just before 9 PM, kicking things off with “The Same River”, propelled by Mariusz Duda’s pulsating bassline. The impressive sonic landscape was followed by “#Addicted”, which at its core sounded like an 80’s pop song with a harder edge. This gave way to the syncopated and proggy “Rainbow Box”, from 2007’s “Rapid Eye Movement”. Mariusz introduced the band and mentioned that since they don’t have any actual hits, they’ll just play their longest songs through their set. 

Celebrating a 20th anniversary means revisiting not so pleasant moments, and the following song, “Towards the Blue Horizon” was dedicated to Piotr Grudziński, their guitar player, who unexpectedly passed away in 2016 after suffering a sudden pulmonary embolism. Although the song was written prior to Piotr’s death, one couldn’t help but noticing how fitting the lyrics here were to celebrate his legacy: “Let me tell you a story / About you and me in those days / How much passion and joy we shared / How often we turned back time”. The song starts with bucolic verses and evolves into a massive theme, with Maciej Meller riffing heavily on his PRS guitar.

Coming up next, “Story of My Dream” is a composition prepared especially for the band’s 20th anniversary, and encompasses the wide range of styles covered by the band through their career – the heavier side of the early days, and the more melancholic and reflective tone of the later output. With lyrics referencing many of their previous song titles, this was the first song they recorded in the new line-up, with Maciej Meller, who absolutely shines throughout the song.

Speaking of long songs, what came next was truly a tribute to the jam bands of the 60’s and 70’s: “Escalator Shine” started off with an atmosphere reminiscent of Pink Floyd, and evolved to a Deep Purple type of jam, with an incredible interplay between Maciej and keyboardist Michał Łapaj. There were even a few bars of Deep Purple’s “Black Knight” on the song, which was closed in an ominous fashion with a coral on the last minute.

The band goes on reflective mode on the acoustic “Time Travelers”, and the chorus was so irresistible that Mariusz didn’t even have to ask for the crowd to join him. If you ever thought there’s no beauty in simplicity, listen to that song and try to resist and not sing “Let’s go back to the world that was 30 years ago / and let’s believe this is our time”.

Speaking of crowd participation, on “Egoist Hedonist” Mariusz said “on this song there will be a part where I need you to help me sing, and it’s coming… seven minutes from now”. Mixing heavy prog riffs, a Middle Eastern mid section and a pulsating beat on the verses, which led Michał to show us his funny dance moves in the verses, this was the song met with most applause by the crowd.

Mariusz wasn’t kidding when he said the band would play long songs during the show, because the set closer was an absolutely brilliant rendition of the theme that arguably gave Riverside their big break, the epic “Second Life Syndrome”. The many twists and turns of this song would be a challenge for a less experienced drummer, but Piotr Kozieradzki nailed all its intricacies.

The band came back for an encore, with “We Got Used to Us”, a sorrowful tale of broken love where they don’t hide their Marillion influences, and the edgy and tense “Panic Room”. Mariusz announced the band will work on a new album which is aimed for release in early 2023, and promised the tour to promote it will kick off in Toronto.

There are still a handful of dates in Riverside’s North American Tour, and they will be on the prestigious Cruise to the Edge in May. Catch them live on this tour and witness a band at the height of their powers, providing you with a rollercoaster of emotions and a wide range of styles, with incredible musicianship and charisma.

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