CONCERT REVIEW: RIVERSIDE Rocks Boulder Despite Mountain Pass Closures (March 4th, 2023)

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Words by Scott Medina | Photos by Alan Cox

Routing a winter concert tour is fraught with obstacles, not the least of which are mountain passes amidst blizzard conditions. So, when Riverside’s tour bus finally pulled up to Boulder’s Fox Theater at 7pm for a show whose doors were supposed to open at that exact moment, a friend observed, “It takes a lot longer to drive to Boulder from a gig in Salt Lake City the night before than most people realize.” Throw in a closed interstate due to storms and the situation quickly becomes tenuous. 

For those in the know, even before the roadies had hurriedly started to unload the equipment, the MVP of the show undoubtedly had to be awarded to Dale, the bus driver. It was a small miracle that the show even happened at all given the hours spent sitting on a closed highway earlier in the day. Still, eager concert goers had to wait outside along the sidewalk for well over an hour in freezing temperatures before the outer doors were opened into a small foyer, and even longer until the soundcheck was complete and they could enter the theater. So there were some understandable mixed feelings in the room at the start but all was eventually forgiven in gratitude and joy as the headliners took to the stage at the still-impressive hour of 10pm. 

Opening the show briefly were The Cyberiam “Duo” with a truncated set due to the late start. This fantastic band from Chicago is actually a quartet but the tour bus only has so many bunks on it, so in situations like these they cut the band in half to at least make some new fans and get the name out there. Vocalist/guitarist Keith Semple and bassist/vocalist Brian Kovacs do an admirable job together in bringing the material to life with brilliant vocals and deft instrumentation. But whether or not their duo incarnation grabs you, be sure to pick up their most recent album “Connected” if you like Rush, Tool or Porcupine Tree. The full band experience will undoubtedly impress. 

Riverside took to the stage confidently despite the turmoil of the day. The sold-out theater was packed with about 500 fans, a solid turnout given that this may only have been Riverside’s second visit to the area. They had previously played at the larger Boulder Theater but they fit right in at the Fox, as Porcupine Tree and even Opeth have done in the past. Why these bands have chosen Boulder as the site of their Colorado gigs seems a bit of a mystery when lead man Mariusz Duda asks how many people there actually live in Boulder and only a paltry number of hands go up (mine included). Still, he adopts all of us for the evening and the concert is frequently punctuated by “Let’s hear you, Boulder!” and other personalized call-outs.

Indeed, Duda provides the main focal point of the evening as the only real showman in the group, frequently engaging, cajoling or even challenging the crowd with the skill of a seasoned front man. The fact that he’s an excellent bassist is at times almost forgotten, given how easy his fingers glide across the instrument while his vocals and charisma shine in the spotlight. Next to him is keyboardist Michał Łapaj, looking more like Richard Wright (Pink Floyd) every day, whose perpetual smile lends an air of warmth from the otherwise darkened stage. Mainstay drummer Piotr Kozieradzki seems hidden in those shadows towards the back though his playing is on point and lively in the mix. Newest member Maciej Meller on guitar does well in honoring the spirit of his predecessor, the late Piotr Grudziński, while adding his own character but there isn’t a lot of stage presence or dynamics at play. No, it’s mostly Duda’s sheer willpower that pushes the band forward and makes the connection with the audience. 

Opening song “#Addicted” doesn’t seem like the most impactful choice with which to open a concert but it’s a good enough song to engage the crowd. Followup “O2 Panic Room” hits harder and is a winner from the “Rapid Eye Movement” album but it’s the new album “ID.Entity” that is of greatest interest to the band and that’s where we hang out for most of the evening. Fortunately, the album is one of the band’s best, so when “Landmine Blast” hits, the crowd is right there with them. I notice a fan behind me is singing every word and when I turn to congratulate him he affirms that he’s already listened to the new release over 100 times. Hmmm…#Addicted indeed. 

The album version of “Big Tech Brother” opens with a much-maligned computer-generated voice over but in this live context, Duda mimics the intro with his own voice, an approach which is a bit comical and actually endearing. At the end of the song’s final repetition of its chord progression Duda cops to the fact that the studio version simple fades out because they didn’t have any fancy ending to offer. Nonetheless, the new material sounds great live, including the lengthy “The Place Where I Belong” but unfortunately we only get 5 songs from the new album. Earlier shows in the tour had boasted a couple more songs in the set-list which don’t appear tonight, though part of that might be due to the late start. 

Duda’s demand for audience participation includes a singalong during “Left Out” and – quite hysterically – a repeated silent scream during encore “Conceiving You”. Such original humor is most welcome, even as it alternates between diatribes about the challenges of being labelled a prog band. Happily, this audience doesn’t seem to care much what the label is; there are kids here and plenty of men (and some women) in their 50s and 60s, all supporting passionate live music from this Polish band. With a well-balanced mix, no one seems to go away disappointed when the midnight hour strikes. 

Riverside have said that they don’t plan on returning to American shores in 2024 (well, aside from the port of Miami when they sail on Cruise to the Edge next March) but whenever the followup album and tour does materialize, let’s hope that their agent remembers to book a travel day before and after any Colorado dates. 

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