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Live in Bethlehem, PA (NEARFest 2010), June 18th, 2010

Review by Julie Knispel

Riverside was one of two repeat bands at NEARfest 2010, playing the first ever “Alumni Friday” pre-festival show (past Friday night showcases have featured fusion bands, the first PFM NEARfest performance, Proto-Kaw, The Musical Box, and other bands).  Opening for legendary guitarist Steve Hackett, the Polish prog metal band took the stage shortly after 7 PM on Friday 18 June 2010.
As mentioned, this would be the band’s second NEARfest performance, as they also played the festival in 2006.  While the band has not changed members in the past 4 years, it was a different sounding band that opened things up for NEARfest 2010.  Far more confident and affable on stage, they played with a more seasoned ear and with greater proficiency.  This is not at all meant to denigrate the band’s previous performance, but rather to say that 4 years of growth and maturity and evolution musically have built a stronger, more confident band.

Mariusz Duda is one of the more powerful, distinctive vocalists in progressive music today (not even limiting him to just progressive metal bands); his voice can handle everything from smoky bari-tenor melodies to low growls to screams with power and tonal strength.  His bass playing is not a weak spot for him either.  While he may not play a million notes per minute, or have the opportunity to trade insane dueling lines with his guitarist or keyboardist, the songs don’t require that, and his playing is strong, fluid and fits the band’s music perfectly.  Speaking of the guitarist, Piotr Grudziński has continued to grow and tighten up his playing remarkably.  He was never a slouch on the six-string, but his soling has found a singular unique voice, while his rhythm playing is heavy and crunchy.

Bill Knispel
The second Piotr, Piotr Kozieradzki, is a powerful drummer who is equally adept on quieter tracks like “Conceiving You” or “02 Panic room,” grooving where needed and blasting away when the song requires power and force to drive it.  Finally, keyboardist Michał Łapaj finds himself in a difficult position, as keyboardists in metallic prog bands tend to go in one of two directions.  On one extreme are the Jordan Rudesses of the world, playing with virtuosic skill and speed.  On the other end of the spectrum are the texturists, responsible for adding depth and richness to the band’s sound on stage and record without necessarily standing out as a solo instrumental voice.  Łapaj tends to flit between these two extremes; while certainly not comparable to the Rudesses and Wakemans of the world, he can lay down some nice solos and lines when needed, and can also sit back and add the textures and sounds that make Riverside’s music the recognizable entity it is.

It’s a shame then that for all of this, their performance seemed to fall flat for a good portion of the crowd.  While their sound was solid and performances assured, a setlist that drew mainly from their newest release Anno Domini High Definition may have pushed away some fans not totally familiar with that release (even though the album had been out for over a year by this concert).  Compared to past releases such as Rapid Eye Movement and Second Life Syndrome, AD-HD comes up a little short; the songs are good, but lack some of the drama and melodic strength that typified their earlier output.  It was certainly the right thing to do to feature their newest release so strongly (would that other bands would take the same “risk” in their performances), but the material seemed flat when played next to older tracks like “Conceiving You” or “Dance with the Shadow.”  Even atypical tracks such as “02 Panic Room,” which on album has a very electronic sound that is not at all standard Riverside, came across live far stronger than the new material. 

Bill Knispel
AD-HD does not tie in to the band’s first three albums in any way thematically, and as such does have a different sound (still identifiable as Riverside, but different).  It is possible that this difference in sound is part of the reason it didn’t come across live as strongly, but I am still not convinced that this is the case.  Certainly opening with 3 of the first four songs played coming from AD-HD is a sign of belief in the material, but I think that it was a decision that didn’t fully pay off.

In the end, the Riverside set was a frustrating one; a band that had matured and grown in skill, with a performance that outpaced their first concert on US soil, but which ultimately was not as satisfying as that earlier show.

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Bill Knispel
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 4 at
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