The Polish prog rockers Riverside lost their guitarist Piotr Grudziński tragically last year, which put the band’s touring to a halt. Fortunately, the surviving members decided to soldier on as a trio with the help of session guitarists, and starting with two hometown shows in Warsaw last February, the Towards the Blue Horizon Tour brought them back into the live circuit. After a European leg in the spring and festival appearances in the summer, this fall it was the Nordic countries’ turn to see Riverside’s return, with support from fellow Poles, Lion Shepherd. Finnish fans were lucky enough to get a total of four shows, and Musicalypse went to see the one at Klubi in Tampere, on September 29th.
Back in the spring, I noticed that Riverside had responded to a Facebook commenter asking them to come to Denmark, saying that Scandinavian dates would be announced soon. Since Finland technically doesn’t belong to Scandinavia, any local shows were in question, yet it still gave me hope that I would finally get to see them live for the first time. Lo and behold, the dates were announced and Finland was included, so attending the show in Tampere was a no-brainer for me. My biggest regret as a concert-goer has to be skipping Riverside’s previous Finnish tour back in 2013 after I’d just gotten into their music, because obviously I had no idea it would’ve been my only chance to see them with Grudziński. It was time for me to remedy my earlier mistake.
Having interviewed Riverside bassist/vocalist Mariusz Duda, we were at the venue early on. There wasn’t an abundance of people around yet, so I wasn’t sure how big of an audience to expect. The showtime for Lion Shepherd had been announced as 21:00, but about 20 minutes before that, an intro of oriental-style music with female vocals started playing. I assumed the band would start early, but the tape went on and on, lasting for all those 20 minutes until they finally hit the stage. I’d never listened to Lion Shepherd before, so I went in with fresh ears, although I’d read that their music falls under the progressive umbrella, and Duda had told me they have eastern influences in their music.
Lion Shepherd’s music did match these descriptions, as there was a distinct oriental flavor in the outro melodies, along with occasional odd time signatures and other rhythmic hooks. Drummer Piotr Podgórski played some percussion sounds on his drum pads, but it was the multi-talented guitar tandem of Mateusz Owczarek and Łukasz Belcyr that stole the show as they effortlessly shifted between electric and acoustic guitars, as well as exotic instruments such as oud and Irish bouzouki, the latter of which frontman Kamil Haidar introduced as the band’s ‘secret weapon.’ The dark-featured singer’s voice actually sounded a bit like Duda’s to my ears, although it may have just been the Polish accent playing a trick in on my mind. Some of the songs had a rocking vibe going on, while others were more metallic with low and chunky riffs – the heaviest one reminded me of Porcupine Tree and Tool, and Haidar even let out a few screams. Lion Shepherd’s fusion of western and eastern sounds was engrossing, and the only real bummer was how quiet Haidar’s vocals and some of the acoustic instruments were in the mix, although it got better later on. The band used their slot very effectively with little room for banter, but the show was nevertheless well-received by the crowd, which had grown quite a bit in number by the end, and you could even hear some enthusiastic squeals. “I’ve got to buy their record,” I heard someone declare to their fellow afterwards, and while I didn’t rush to the merch stand myself, these guys’ two albums are definitely on my shopping list now.
After some pieces from last year’s ambient compilation Eye of the Soundscape had been played through the PA, Riverside got on stage at 22:00. However, they started in an unusual manner, as Mariusz Duda gave the audience a speech, telling what the show would be all about. He talked about the sad circumstances that prevented the band from coming here last year and said they would tell a story through the music for the following 2 hours. They started with a dark version of “Coda” from Shrine of New Generation Slaves (2013) as a trio, until about halfway through when guest guitarist Maciej Meller joined them. On the album, “Coda” is the short acoustic reprise of “Feel Like Falling” with more positive lyrics, but this version was an extended full-band piece with solos and all. An alternate version of an album outro track is not your typical way to open a concert, but it set the mood for the show very well. It also transitioned nicely into “Second Life Syndrome”, one of my all-time favorite Riverside songs, which was performed magically. While a spot in the setlist as the epic finale might typically seem more appropriate for it, being played this early on made sense in the context of the story Duda talked about – after all, Riverside was basically starting a second life after last year’s events.
The set continued with a beautiful rendition of “Conceiving You” and “Caterpillar and the Barbed Wire.” One surprising highlight for me was “The Depth of Self-Delusion”, the studio version of which never particularly struck me as an amazing song. Hearing it live made me see the error of my ways, and the extra solos by Duda and Meller at the end were fantastic. Another tune that seemed to get a brand new life on stage was “Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened by a Hat)?”, which was played as a semi-acoustic version with Duda on guitar – the folky singer-songwriter vibe was lovely. While at the start of the show Duda had told us not to expect too much heavy stuff, “02 Panic Room” was a welcome burst of energy, and “Saturate Me” likewise had people nodding their heads. During the monumental “Escalator Shrine” you could just feel the music wash over you and forget about all the pointless thoughts in your head, and “Before” brought the main set to a climactic close as the band left the stage while the guitar was still ringing with feedback. After another speech by Duda, they kicked off the encore with an emotional performance of the title-track of the tour, “Towards the Blue Horizon”, which was dedicated to Grudziński. While the lyrics had originally been penned about Duda’s late friend, they got a poignant new meaning as he sang “You can still play the guitar / And sing your songs,” and the band’s demeanor was a little more serious than during the other songs. Finally, the night came to an end and the circle was completed with the bright version of “Coda”, at the conclusion of which Duda sang “When something ends, something else begins / We are moving on.”
Considering the intimidating task Maciej Meller had as the substitute for a dead man, he handled his job admirably; staying faithful to the original guitar parts and not trying to steal the spotlight from the band members themselves, while getting to display his talents during the extra solos. The most heartwarming thing about the whole show was simply seeing the three surviving members of Riverside looking visibly happy on stage and being able to do what they love again. Keyboardist Michał Łapaj in particular was constantly grinning from ear to ear behind his keyboard kiosk, and even the crew guy at the side of the stage was occasionally moving along to the music and exchanging funny faces with him. The packed house showed its appreciation for the band and clearly included a lot of faithful listeners, although the sing-alongs in “Lost” and “02 Panic Room” were a little quiet and bashful in typical Finnish fashion. As Duda stated during the encore, “We don’t have fans, we have a family,” and that spirit was in the air throughout the night.
By midnight I’d killed two birds with one stone: I’d seen Riverside live at last and been introduced to an interesting new band in Lion Shepherd. While Riverside’s setlist for the tour had looked a little weird and short on paper and didn’t include a lot of my personal favorites, the various segues, extensions, and alternate versions made it flow well and helped the show become an experience of its own. The visual side of things with the rotating triangles of lighting looked great, and the sound was pleasant, although “Saturate Me” could’ve used some more prominent organ from Łapaj. Duda promised Riverside would come back next year, which is something that I’m looking forward to already. Ladies and gentlemen, Riverside is reborn and the journey is far from being over.
1. Coda (dark version)
2. Second Life Syndrome
3. Conceiving You
4. Caterpillar and the Barbed Wire
5. The Depth of Self-Delusion
6. Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened by a Hat?)
7. 02 Panic Room
8. Saturate Me
9. Escalator Shrine
11. Towards the Blue Horizon
12. Coda (bright version)
Photos: Charlotta Rajala