It is hard to believe, but with a twelve year history now behind them, Polish prog-masters Riverside are beginning to stretch their career towards veteran status. On the evidence of their simply stunning new album Shrine Of New Generation Slaves, the Mariusz Duda led quartet are far from resting on their laurels, instead using their first show on Scottish soil to illustrate that they are a band right at the height of their powers. Add to that the unique blend of styles that New York japesters Jolly serve up and fellow Poles Dianoya also making their first Scottish bow and it was absolutely no surprise that Glasgow's Classic Grand was filled to the brim with an audience expecting, and receiving, something rather special...
As we made our way up the stairs into the main hall of the Classic Grand, we could already hear the strains of "Turbid Minds And Season Madness" by Polish newcomers Dianoya. Well I say new, but their one and only release Obscurity Divine actually arrived in 2010, with the quartet slowly but surely making an effort to promote it ever since. Something made a little more challenging recently due to the departure of their long term bassist and drummer, new members Dawid Artyszuk (drums) and Bartek Turkowski (bass) joining singer Filip Zielinski and guitarist Jan Niedzielski for this tour. Even with the usual pre-gig hub of people coming and going, queues at the merch-stall and clamour at the bar taking place as Dianoya attempted to hit their stride, it was clear that their technical proficiency and similar musical scope to tonight's headliners Riverside was garnering some interest. By the time "Cold Genius" and "Severance" had weaved their mix of bleak and brash it was undeniable that the ever filling venue was now thoroughly on side, with the clear uplifting voice of Zielinski capturing the attention as the one moment intricate, the next bold guitars fuelled the imagination. A brief introduction, but with "Good News Comes After A While" illustrating all that is best about this style of melancholically brutish prog, this quick-fire set left many visibly wanting more.
So with the already packed in crowd well and truly warmed, New York's Jolly flounced onto the stage looking like some sort of fashion week rejects, a mix of floppy velvet feathered hats, flat-caps, flowery shirts and vest-jean combos having everyone wondering if they'd wandered in on some Enuff Z'Nuff-Moby-BoyNextDoor-Ron Jeremy tribute act. Things became even murkier when the loungy-jazz strains of "Storytime" kicked in, with a swift glance around the venue revealing a large percentage of faces having quizzical, "what the hell is this...?" looks plastered on them. Singer/guitarist and he of the feathers and velvet, Anadale handled the crooning with some style, as bassist Anthony Rondinone who has that certain young Ron Jeremyish (not that I'd know...) about him matching word for note, with the pairing also trading shapes and poses. "Firewell" did exactly that, firing things up after the oddly low key opening, also displaying the stunning drum pyrotechnics of Louis Abramson (boy next door) and chaotic keyboard cacophony of the Moby-alike Joe Reilly - who had to cajole his stubbornly unfriendly Moog reluctantly into life as the set began. With a sweat now working up through the blast beating funk, the quartet decided to frustrate once more with the smooth jazzing pop of "Where Everything's Perfect", which while performed admirably, still managed to undo much of what had been built up, before "Dust Nation Bleak" got the ball partially rolling again. Abramson untangled himself from his drums and cymbals long enough to share the tragic, yet uplifting story of how Jolly had all of their gear, studio and nearly completed third album destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, with the band only being saved by their fans support and generosity. Then wham! "Joy", "We Had An Agreement" and "The Pattern" showed us what we should have had from the off, trading in the over clever for nail on the head directness and showing why this quartet are quite as confident and assured as they are on stage. It isn't as though any of the three songs (actually "WHAA" is a mere short interlude) are exactly straight ahead four on the floor workouts, but with more obvious melodies and ideals, this is the sort of material Jolly should be concentrating on, at least when hoping to win over new fans. The ability to pace their set more evenly wouldn't go amiss either. Just as they are on CD, when they are good, Jolly are fantastic, when they lose focus, you lose interest...
So with the Jolly rollercoaster ride negotiated without anyone parting with their dinner, just, Riverside delivered the type of set you can only hope one of your favourite bands muster - even if they didn't have everything their own way. Between, as expected these days unfortunately, loud chatter at the bar (which runs along one whole side of the venue in the Classic Grand, so no escaping to the front to concentrate), the usual plethora of people so intent on filming every note that they forget to show any sort of appreciation to the band and a beat laden outfit playing in the CG2 on the floor below meaning that many of the night's more tender moments were punctuated by a horrendous thumpa-thumpa-thump, somehow Riverside stayed on target and hit the bull's eye time after time after time. In fact all these issues only made it more impressive that we witnessed a band in full flow, well placed confidence sparking off boyish enthusiasm to light the touch paper on a gig that will live long in the memory. "New Generation Slave" muscled into view, bass line throbbing, Hammond howling, while singer/bassist and Riverside mainman Mariusz Duda held the whole room captive with his enigmatically expressive vocal delivery, which even a head cold couldn't diminish. The gentler strains of "The Depth Of Self Delusion" introduced the second new song out of two, but then, when the most recent Riverside epic, Shrine Of New Generation Slaves being as mighty as it is, no one was complaining.
Guitarist Piotr Grudsinksi was clearly intent on enjoying himself, looking lost in the moment as often as not, while adding piercing pinpricks of light to the intentional Riverside gloom, while key's-expert Michal Lapaj cavorted from keyboard to keyboard as he layered the atmosphere on good and thick. Duda however really is a performer that it is hard to wrest your eyes off, with his commanding appearance adding to the air of mystique that oozes from him, while drummer Piotr Kozieradzki never changed his mean and moody expression from his first snare snap, to his final cymbal crash. However the way he drove on third new song of the night "Feel Like Falling", was a joy for everyone to behold, the ever evolving beat laying the foundation for some sumptuous, expert guitar playing. "Driven To Destruction" was the first song to delve into the band's past, with the Anno Domini-High Definition track adding a brutish metal edge that felt pleasingly alien to what had come before. "Living In The Past" coming from the EP Memories In My Head caught many out through its restrained dark, threatening beauty - a real mid-set masterstroke - where all four band members got the opportunity to stretch out and test their mettle. Although that didn't stop the almost tear inducingly touching "We Got Used To Us" from the being the standout moment of the night, even if it was the song that suffered the most from the beat-bleed from the floor below... "Egoist Hedonist" added its latent dance-like quality to an almost metal like execution and neo-prog heart, offering up yet another sharp u-turn, before the fifth S.O.N.G.S. offering "Escalator Shrine" closed the main set, meaning that of the nine songs aired, not one was more than two albums old.
Few encores are truly deserved these days, but the raucous rabble in attendance tonight truly made Riverside come out once more, "Left Out" plundering ADHD again, before the band's more distant past was finally explored through second encore "Conceiving You", which ended the evening in absolutely stunning style.
It isn't often that you get the opportunity to see a band truly at the peak of their powers, having delivered their strongest album and seemingly bringing new enthusiasm to a mix that already needed little encouragement to excite and captivate. Tonight was one of those nights and Riverside were truly magnificent. With more live shows running through Europe and North America in coming months, you'd be completely mad to miss them.