Like countless other bands, Polish progressive/art rock quartet Riverside have been waiting patiently to embark on a proper tour in the wake of the pandemic. That’s particularly true because 2021 marked their 20th anniversary yet—aside from a handful of shows last August—they’ve been unable to celebrate it in a live setting. Fortunately, though, they’re now in the midst of an expansive North American trek that included a phenomenal stop at Philadelphia’s World Café Live on April 29th. Backed by a superb opening set from The Cyberiam guitarist/vocalist Keith Semple, it was a wonderfully intimate and impressive way to commemorate all that Riverside have accomplished.
Right on cue, Semple came out at 8:00 PM and provided roughly thirty minutes of modified Cyberiam material. He began with “Alice in Afterland,” the beautifully emotive and cinematic opening track from their self-titled 2018 debut record. Obviously, the lack of a full band diminished some of the official version’s theatricality, but Semple did a great job adapting it to his solo set. As with his subsequent revisions of Cyberiam classics “Interrogation Room B,” “The Fall,” “Don’t Blink,” “The Butterfly Effect,” and more, he sang flawlessly whilst tapping out percussion with his foot and playing acoustic and electric guitars. Naturally, the crowd contributed whenever prompted, too, making it an artistically remarkable and communally rewarding way to begin.
Around 9:00 PM, Riverside took to the stage in the most heartwarming way possible: by launching into “The Same River” (which kicked off their first album, 2003’s Out of Myself). It’s an immensely moody, complex, and developed composition, and by beginning with it, the band symbolically paid tribute to the start of their journey. Along the way, vocalist/bassist Mariusz Duda greeted the crowd (helping to establish a friendly and festive vibe), and there seemed to be a few new passages and techniques that made it stand out compared to its studio counterpart.
Afterward, the group more or less represented each of their subsequent six LPs equally, with many of their best tracks showing up. For instance, they gave a slightly heavier treatment to the relatively buoyant and hooky “#Addicted” before dedicating another tune from 2015’s Love, Fear and the Time Machine (“Towards the Blue Horizon”) to late guitarist Piotr Grudziński. (On that note, his successor—Maciej Meller—did an excellent job adding flair to his faithful emulations of Grudziński’s parts.) Other highlights included Riverside's recently released anniversary piece, “Story of My Dream,” “Left Out,” “Time Travellers,” “Escalator Shrine,” and of course, their magnum opus: “Second Life Syndrome.” Each of them was as meticulously recreated as possible, with virtually every timbre, sound effect, and the like incorporated.
Beyond that, it was an understandably simple presentation given the small stage and small room. Semple and Riverside were basked in colored lights that alternated according to the tempo and/or temperament of what they were playing. A few times, there would also be spirals and starry shapes cascading around the room, which was very cool. Plus, Semple and Duda’s occasional banter with the crowd (be it self-deprecating or highly appreciative) was quite endearing.
From start to finish, both acts held the crowd in the palm of their hands. Semple did an amazing job reworking his songs according to his limitations without sacrificing their core essence, and hopefully, he earned The Cyberiam plenty of new fans along the way. As for Riverside, well, they were as incredible as ever. With some of the best songwriting and instrumentation in the genre today, there was never any doubt that they wouldn’t nail their set. Indeed, they completely seized their moment and did justice to everything they played. All involved—on stage and in the crowd—felt the triumph of Riverside’s first 20 years, and I for one can’t wait to see where the next 20 take them.