Riverside at the O2 Institute Birmingham


O2 Institute2, Birmingham
Friday, 21st April 2023

Riverside are back, and this time they are determined to define their Identity positively after the nightmare of the pandemic, quite aside from the band’s own personal loss a few years ago. With a set heavily populated with the upbeat new album I.D. Entity, Riverside are clearly out to entertain and ROCK the tightly packed Birmingham 02 Institute, with a very enthusiastic crowd so happy to see their heroes back on stage in the UK after four years.

Riverside launch into an extended keyboard intro for the insistent and suitably addictive rhythms of #Addicted, which turns out to be the only song tonight from the generally more melodic Love Fear and the Time Machine – Riverside are in a decidedly energetic and, crucially, an energising mood. It already feels like this will be a celebration with the emphasis on fun. 02 Panic Room, from the album which ignited my love for this band, 2007’s Rapid Eye Movement, is about the nearest Riverside have to a hit single. The hypnotic beat and relentless rhythm completely captures the room, even if the vocals are a bit low in the mix initially, although that is very quickly fixed. Having grabbed the crowd by the proverbials, Riverside did not let go and launched into the first two of the new numbers from the brilliant I.D. EntityLandmine Blast explodes with Mariusz Duda as ‘Cool as F…’ on the bass (as he was all night) and a great, funky keyboard solo from Michał Łapaj. Big Tech Brother carries the momentum forward with the idiosyncratic spoken intro and synth horns – Riverside are not afraid to throw anything into the melting pot, and in concert this number REALLY cooks.

Riverside at the O2 Institute Birmingham
Photo courtesy of Sandra Smith

The charismatic Mariusz Duda has the crowd in the palm of his hand all night with his warm and witty repartee between songs, explaining that Riverside were going to force the crowd to interact with them ‘… not like a Prog audience’! The setlist choices were an interesting reflection of the atmosphere Riverside wanted to create, with the emphasis on high energy and excitement. The fabulous Left Out and Egoist Hedonist from undoubtedly their heaviest album, 2008’s Anno Domini High Definition, clearly indicated that Riverside were set on a high velocity trajectory. Left Out commenced rather delicately with some gorgeous guitar from Maciej Meller, formerly of Quidam and now a permanent member of the band. However, Riverside soon took the brakes off as they and the crowd surfed along in the wake of this leviathan of a track, the crowd chanting along joyously. The quality and excitement levels of this gig were rising inexorably skyward from this sweaty basement venue. The pulsing synths, cavernously huge drums from the inspired Piotr Kozieradzki, and the absolutely MASSIVE riffs of Egoist Hedonist impelled the gig on thunderously with some gloriously funky synth horns showing Riverside can swagger as well as rock. It’s a brain-meltingly good track, and live it becomes even more mind-blowing with the whole crowd rocking and swaying with the music.

The I.D. Entity songs stand up strongly in the company of such an awesome back catalogue, with Post-Truth particularly outstanding with its crunching intro and Michał Łapaj so fluid on the keyboards. Łapaj exuded joy all night long and it is clear he is relishing taking on more of a prominent role in the band, both musically and as a live performer. At the centre of this musical maelstrom is the inimitable Mariusz Duda, leading the band with such brio and charm. He explains that the new album is not just about the insidious nature of social media, but more positively it is also about their identity as a band, and that what they really wanted to do was project themselves far more positively and colourfully. Consequently, he later explains that they chose not to play any songs from their rather melancholic 2019 album Wasteland… and he was even wearing some unusually coloured bracelets to offset their standard all-black stage wear!

Riverside at the O2 Institute Birmingham
Photo courtesy of Clemo

Riverside do stretch out on the extended The Place Where I Belong, with Meller on electric guitar equally skilful all night with either softer or heavier passages. However, it is Łapaj who really shines on this expansive and imaginative piece. Similarly, the tenth anniversary of Shrine of New Generation Slaves is the catalyst for the rather more contemplative and lilting tones of The Depth of Self Delusion, which Duda mischievously suggests is their one nod tonight to their usual characteristic melancholy. It may also have just been a breather before the band and crowd hurtle onwards, borne along on the ‘a-ha on steroids’ synth driven Friend or Foe? This gloriously ’80s inflected song may have caused some consternation to some fans when it came out, unable to contemplate their heroes daring to sound even remotely ‘commercial’ or ‘poppy’. Nevertheless, judging by the ecstatic response and joy of the fans who bounced along with it as the final number of the main show, I think Riverside can rest assured that this will be a long-time live favourite – it sounded bloody marvellous!

One of the best songs on the new album, Self-Aware, launched the encore into orbit with its intoxicating mixture of infectious, powerful riffs, earworm lyrics and the irresistible ‘football crowd’ chanting from the audience… blimey, it even has some reggae hooks scattered around just for fun! Wisely they eschew the extended outro of the album version with the emphasis on the energy of the main piece. The place went bonkers… and then having grabbed, stirred and shaken them up thoroughly, Riverside then gently lay the crowd down for the night with a gorgeous, flowing version of Conceiving You, which dates right back to their classic second album in 2005, Second Life Syndrome. On a night of joy and excitement, Riverside remind us all that they can also do grace and beauty.

Riverside confirmed on this tour that they are a truly world class act right at the top of their game. Their new album and this fantastic tour will rightly be regarded as one of THE events of this year… and the real joy is that after a few years absence Riverside promised they would return again next year – just take my money right now!

Riverside at O2 Institute, Birmingham

Click HERE to view the Riverside Photo Gallery

[TPA would like to thank Sandra Smith, Clemo and Leo Trimming for the live photos used in this review.]

02 Panic Room
Landmine Blast
Big Tech Brother
Left Out
The Place Where I Belong
Egoist Hedonist
The Depth of Self Delusion
Friend or Foe?
~ Encore:
Conceiving You

Mariusz Duda – Vocals, Bass Guitar
Piotr Kozieradzki – Drums
Michał Łapaj – Keyboards
Maciej Meller – Guitars

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