Riverside were without support. They don’t need support. They weren’t alone either. Their reputation goes before them, so a good sized crowd of all ages convened downstairs and upstairs at the Islington Assembly Hall, breaking the recent trend of low turnouts for prog bands in London and elsewhere.
The ambient sounds of “Eye of the Soundscape” swept the hall. Anticipation rose. The band came quietly on the stage. Mariusz promised something “a bit different”. Handling the tragic loss of band mate Pietr Grudziński with great sensitivity and maturity, he promised positive thoughts, a catharsis as he put it. Sensitivity is what Riverside are about. This was third time I had seen Riverside play live, and I had huge expectations. Other than a short and well-deserved break towards the end, this set lasted two hours. It was magnificent. There was no roughness at the edges. The bass and drum were prominent throughout, but always there’s a dreamy and soulful side as the guitar adds colour, and Mariusz’s voice, which reminds me of the singer from the old Australian band Icehouse, has vulnerability, clarity and a mystical quality at the same time. It’s a wonderful combination. Sound waves flow through the songs. “Second Life Syndrome” has moments like a dramatic film score – I thought the same when listening to “The Depth of Self-Delusion” a while later. The excitement develops, and there is also a lightly melancholic air. It’s thoughtful, fluid and progressive. The sweeping waves, which followed, then recalled the sound of whales. Cymbals shimmered like the sea lapping onto the shore, then clackety-clack, we enter another phase as the mood changes. It’s upbeat, the crowd clapped to the colourful and gentling swaying rhythm of the very personal ”Conceiving You”. And Mariusz’s dreamy voice has the tone of an Arabic chant. This was exotic and electrifying. It all seems effortless but of course it isn’t. It’s all carefully constructed. The ensuing softness of “Caterpillar and the Barbed Wire” was hypnotising, and “Depth of Self-Delusion” has the aura of both the shadowy night and lighter elements with the addition of a dangerous and heavy bass undercurrent in there. This is so subtle. It also has mystical quality like an Eastern prayer. There’s wave upon wave of musical magic and depth. The tall keyboard player stretches across and working two keyboards, adds touches of retro prog, mystical and cosmic exquisiteness as the drums lead us along a powerful path. The guitar and bass constantly add feeling and strength.
It was all presented with humility, grace and even humour. Mariusz commented on the size of the crowd: “Thank you so much for bringing your parents”. He invited the spectators to join in the chorus of “Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened By A Hat?)”. The spectators gladly joined in. The band played with the audience, stopping in the middle of the powerful and dramatic “02 Panic Room”. The song, which in part sounds like the theme to a tv drama, goes deep in the veins. Rhythms came from everywhere as the subtle, sensitive and equally powerful “Saturate Me” before sheer cosmic mystery set us off on the way to the echoey and dreamy “Escalator Shrine”. Deep cosmic prog gave way to a jazz style before a vigorous section, which led to a Floydian passage and another hypnotising build-up. Musical voices were coming from the sky. Then the tribal drum beat signalled the majestic “Before”. Mariusz’s voice was at once haunting and comforting. The build-up was captivating and strong. The atmosphere was on a knife-edge. The crowd was excited. So ended the first part. “That was the story of our band. Thanks to your support we can play this tour. We don’t have fans. We are a big, huge family”, announced Mariusz graciously, before setting off on “Towards the Blue Horizon” and ending with a “more optimistic version” of “Coda”. “We promised you catharsis. We want to send you home with a smile on your faces”, explained Mariusz. Riverside did more than this. I felt honoured to share the warmth, and be witness to the care and attention, which went into the preparation and execution of this set. The range was vast. We were treated to a selection of Riverside’s back catalogue, going back to ”Second Life Syndrome” from 2005. The styles were varied, and appealed to the senses through their majestic delivery and transformations. The clarity of the drums, the mysticism of the keyboards, the vocals, guitar work and overall sound effects all intertwined and created unremitting magic. It flowed like a river. We were taken to a higher plane. Watching and listening to Riverside was like witnessing master craftsmen at work. It was an uplifting experience of sublime music and human warmth.
Sadly, this was the night when a terrorist attack caused the death of a number of adults and children leaving a pop concert in Manchester. Like the death of Riverside’s Pietr, this was a tragedy in a time when the word “tragedy” is wrongly used. I feel for those people and their families. At least Riverside proved that not only was there joy before, but there will be joy.