Riverside, The Sixxis & Lion Shepherd @ The Ritz
When you’re gigging a couple of times a week for Manchester Rocks and the like, it’s easy to become a bit nonchalant, a little cool about going to a yet another gig. Not like when you were a young lad, because we all grow old, when you’d have your ticket (usually £5 top whack) pinned on the wall for weeks – a ‘proper’ ticket too, not a computer generated one. It might have been in the days when giants walked the earth and Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Yes logos were emblazoned on your school bag and embroidered on your denim jacket. When Blackmore’s Rainbow was Rising and he wasn’t prancing round the woods in tights, daft hats and rock star shades and when you wanted a reedy organ sound you bought a Hammond rather than loaded a patch.
Yes, I’ve been looking forward to this gig for quite a while and all because of the journey which begun not many moons ago (in a faraway galaxy) but just a few months back when listening to Riverside’s new record Love, Fear And The Time Machine. It opened a new doorway to a band whose style owes some much to the prog masters of days gone by, yet with a very modern and European flavouring. All a bit ‘Back To The Future’ and uncannily enough, the day before the gig had been official BTTF day.
And a more pleasant surprise than fellow Poles, Lion Shepherd you couldn't wish for. Opening slot, early doors (well, they were a bit late on stage to be truthful) isn't always the best way to find new fans but the breadth and refinement of their music was enough to grab the attention and earned them more than just a polite appreciation. An acoustic lute/big mandolin type instrument and a bass player who switched to acoustic guitar plus a singer who delivered some gorgeous guitar notes on the odd occasion showed that they have something original to bring to the table.
The Sixxis, who I believe have supported Spocks Beard in the past, seemed a little incongruous if truth be told. Vladdy Iskhakov is a compelling frontman, looking like a cross between Ian Anderson and Mike Portnoy, swapping from vocals to keyboard (which struggled to make any impact) but raised some interest with his Flying V shaped electric fiddle. The twin guitars obviously gives them a more straight rock based sound but sandwiched between Riverside and Lion Shepherd, they were a little plain – more like a hospital sandwich rather than an M&S executive offering.
So to Riverside. Having had the appetite whetted by not just the album, but assorted YouTube clips, most notably of their appearance in Loreley’s Night Of The Prog earlier this year, there was that often missing anticipation and slight annoyance when they don’t appear on stage quite on time. However, when they did, it was the epitome of being worth the wait. For sure I’ve waited longer for less, but the knowledge that any second they were about to start off on that potent organ and distant guitar intro to the standout track from the new album Lost (just try listening to the album without having to continually skip back to that opening song) which soon explodes into a full on assault with some seriously addictive guitar melodies was one of those moments that’s all about the thrill of knowing what lies ahead.
Mariusz Duda is clearly the man at the front and also the man behind Riverside yet his band of unassuming prog acolytes amounts to much more than the sum of its parts. And it’s not rocket science either – they just do the simple things very, very well. No showy keyboard solos or flourishes and the same with Piotr Grudzinski’s guitar – all chunky chords and massively underrated lead lines.
A set which was centred round the last two albums and a nod to each of their previous works and a couple of hours gone in the blink of an eye. Backed by an impressive little light show, the likes of which you don’t always see at The Ritz, they simply look and sound the part. Oh and a merch stand which carried the largest range of band T shirts you’re likely to see for a while.
For anyone who doesn’t know Riverside or has heard the name in passing, you genuinely need to get backtracking and avoid wondering what you've missed out on. Preferably on vinyl too – the old school way, naturally. Nothing wrong with a bit of nostalgia when the nostalgia is played this good. Maybe the old days, when prog was king, are making a return.
Images & Words: Mike Ainscoe