Continuing on with the Gigs of the Year…now we are into the good stuff. I saw some great shows this year as well as some no-so-great. The best concert of the year also turned out to be the last one I saw — I had high hopes for this gig, and the guys did not disappoint.
Riverside (The Agora Ballroom, Cleveland)
This was the fourth of the four gigs in a row that I caught during the Love, Fear and the Time Machine tour in North America. It was a difficult show; Duda was sick and exhausted, battling some kind of throat infection. Cleveland came the day after blowing the roof off in Chicago and Mariusz was essentially running on fumes, doing his best to not just phone it in but clearly struggling, short on energy and fighting his way through the songs. However, towards the end he got a huge injection of energy when the crowd belted out Happy Birthday (and mangled his name; his expression was priceless). That really seemed to make him happy and boosted the last few songs.
Árstíðir (Church of St. Stephen’s-in-the-Field)
I can’t remember exactly how I came across this outfit, gentle folk rock/post-rock from Iceland; I tried a few tracks from youtube and they didn’t really grab me, far too sedate; but the idea of seeing a band like this in a church seemed like something worth checking out. And they really were very good, very musical, personable and intimate, a beautiful setting, it was a special evening.
Riverside (The Mod Club, Toronto)
Toronto audiences are a bit weird. Really hipster alty and metal types, not really into prog, and I was a bit nervous about the turnout for Riverside given the size of the venue. And the crowd was smaller than I had hoped for, a couple hundred people or so, but the show, being the first of four in a row I was to see, was a great introduction to the new material and new stage presence of Riverside. They were much heavier on stage than the new album would have suggested, lots of energy; and it was the first time to experience the beauty of “Found” with the lights.
As the end of 2015 looms, it is time to start thinking about the Musical Year that Was. I will begin with a two – part post on the gigs I attended, starting at the bottom and working my way to the Show of the Year.
I took in a lot of gigs this year, more than I realized. A few of those were post-rock or related shows in the style that generally does not appeal to me; I went in large part because some notable bands in the genre passed through town. I was willing to give them a chance because more than once I have been pleasantly surprised by a band’s live performance when I was not a fan of their albums. The major news of course was the return of Riverside to North America; I managed to take in four of their shows via a massive roadtrip.
Swans, (Opera House)
I was actually excited to see Swans, a rather legendary band in some corners, and one that has been around for a long time. Their last two albums have been interesting. But…an hour and three long drony meandering musical excursions later I had had enough. Bored to tears, I left, the first time I had walked out of a gig in memory. Even a naked Thor Harris was not enough to keep me there.
Mono (Lee’s Palace)
Mono is a well-regarded Japanese post-rock outfit and would seem a shame to miss them, but that slow atmospheric going-nowhere-fast style of post rock is just not for me. I stuck it out for most of the gig but split early. I got the point, and I can say that I saw them.
Haken (The Hard Rock)
I wrote a brief and rather scathing review of their album The Mountain for Prog Archives, and I still do not understand what appeal these guys have. However, I decided to take a chance because sometimes a band whose studio stuff you don’t like can put on a decent live show (see: Anathema)…but nope. Their derivative style of prog is no better live and the frontman is exceedingly irritating with all his rock-star posturing.
Explosions in the Sky (Nathan Phillips Square)
Another iconic atmospheric post-rock outfit, this time from the US. It was a free gig around the PanAm games that were held in Toronto over the summer, and that was the main reason I went; I already knew I was not fond of them. They were energetic, and skilled, but all the songs ended up sounding the same.
Live tracks recorded and filmed during a concert played in Łódź, Poland on May 17th 2008.
The reviews of the three studio albums that make up the Reality Dream Trilogy are posted, so it seems like a sensible spot to put a brief précis of the only live concert video Riverside have managed to bring to fruition thus far, a live set of tracks and a DVD stitched together from songs from those albums. If they played anything from Voices in My Head or new songs during this show, it does not appear here.
As of this writing, apart from some videos on the band’s and the label’s Youtube channels, the Reality Dream DVD is the only official record of the band’s on-stage presence—at least as it was at one point in their career. It provides a touchstone for comparisons to their recent performances, especially if one refers to the documentary “In Between” that accompanied the last Lunatic Soul album wherein Mariusz Duda briefly discusses the changes made by the band in how they approach their live shows. Duda is indeed much more of a physical presence on stage now than he was in the early days, and Michał Łapaj is much less restrained…but otherwise there isn’t a lot of difference. They were and are superbly rehearsed, almost preternaturally in touch with each other as performers, and while audience participation is more actively encouraged in recent years the band seems to play more to each other than they do directly to the audience.
In terms of production it is a good record of a live performance, fairly straightforwardly shot but alas edited as if someone had spent too much time watching Porcupine Tree’s Arriving Somewhere DVD, chock full of faux scratches and fading colour and the flare of decaying film, with aspect ratios flipping back and forth at random. All of that distracts more than it enhances. Just give us the show. The songs are almost perfectly rendered versions of the studio tracks with some minor concessions to the live context. This perhaps is the biggest contrast with the current approach: today many of the songs have been modified and transformed into unique and in some cases superior versions for live performance.
There are four versions of this show, in different formats, and each with slightly different track orders. At the moment the availability of the different releases varies from “You Can Find It If You Dig” (the DVD mostly) to “Yeah Right, Dream On”. Set lists for the different versions continue below the fold.