Given that both bands have released impressive, indeed excellent, albums in the last six months, it is no understatement to say that the Jolly/Riverside tour is highly anticipated by the progressive rock community. Leamington Spa’s Assembly Rooms, the last night of the UK leg of the tour, offers the perfect venue for these gloriously complimentary acts, the domed ceiling, art-deco styling and incredibly friendly staff all adding to the good-natured atmosphere that comes from having a truly multi-generational audience in attendance. For Riverside, the Polish progressive act who have been steadily dazzling audiences for years now with their intelligent and genuinely beautiful progressive music (which seems to mix elements from Opeth, Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd and King Crimson all the while sounding like none of the above), this is the first opportunity to headline a UK tour, and it is clear that they are making the most of the opportunity to deliver a set that peaks from the first song and steadily maintains that high throughout.
However, before Riverside there is Jolly, and following the band’s recent, wonderful, ‘Audio guide to happiness (part 2)’ I’m almost more excited to see them than the headline act. What is it about Jolly? Is it the oblique name; that band’s powerful stage presence; the wonderfully diverse songs that take in myriad reference points and weave them into something new and beautiful, even whilst being crushingly intense? It is all of these things and more that makes the band a truly special act to behold and it’s noticeable that those in the audience not initially swayed rapidly become drawn into the shimmering threads that are hypnotically spun from the stage by the band. Opening unconventionally with the slow, winsome, ‘storytime’, it’s the musical equivalent of asking the audience “are you sitting comfortably children? Then we shall begin,” and it works in much the same way, paving the way for the crushing ‘firewell’, the brilliant opening number from the new album which sees singer/guitarist Anadale thrashing away so hard he breaks his guitar. With so short a set highlights prove to be each and every song, from the poignant ‘where everything’s perfect’ to the stunningly huge groove of ‘dust nation bleak’, the band sound immense and it helps that both frontman Anadale and bassist Anthony can really sing, their voices filling the venue. A genre shift is performed once more before the band launch into the warm, sunny sounds of ‘Joy’, a song that magically combines the Beatles and Alice in chains and lives up to its name perfectly, and it’s notable that by this point that the whole venue is heart and soul behind Jolly, their intelligent, layered music having won over every person in the room. Seeing the band in such intimate surroundings, the sound crystal clear and the audience so accepting, will remain a treasured memory and the only complaint is that they didn’t play for longer… much longer.
With Jolly having performed so tight and beguiling a set you’d be forgiven for imagining Riverside had a challenge in front of them, but it is clear that whilst touring with a band such as Jolly has forced to Riverside to play their very best game the audience is still very much here for them. Recent album ‘new generation slaves’ and previous masterpiece ‘ADHD’ have provided the Polish veterans with a loyal and devoted fan-base, and as blue light floods the stage the crowd presses eagerly forward to catch sight of the band. Mariusz starts the title track of the new album alone, backed only by huge swathes of synth that echo around the venue and, as silence descends upon the respectful audience, he captures the attention of all present. As with Jolly it is an unconventional and wholly effective start and when the guitars do appear, they do so with the blazing intensity of a thousand burning suns, the four-piece delivering their material with furious power as swirls of organ whirl around fiendish guitar figures and jazzy drum patterns. It sounds thoroughly immense and recalls the might of both Yes and King Crimson in their heyday.
Red lights, according to Marisuz, announce the arrival of material from ‘ADHD’ and so we get an almighty rendition of ‘driven to destruction’ followed by a truly stunning, slow-burning ‘living in the past’ with its slow, atmospheric, bluesy sound giving way to thunderous, Deep-purple-aping 70’s uber-rock in front of an audience who appear dumbstruck by the sheer power of what is unfolding before them.
Witnessing Riverside and Jolly on the same bill you can easily imagine how the audiences of the seventies felt as they witnessed mid-period Floyd or early Genesis on stage for the first time. The crowd, in-between the two bands, talk of vintage bands and the nuances of progressive rock, and the vibe is that of audience and bands alike embarking upon a musical adventure, challenging perceptions and indulging in the warm, luxurious sensation of being utterly absorbed in a musical vision that is individual, forward-looking and unique. Indeed, the show does what any good concert should do, which is to encourage the concert-goers to go home and listen to both bands as much as possible in the following days. Both Jolly and Riverside drink deep from the well of inspiration and their ability to capture the intricacies of their respective albums on stage is a joy to behold. It is hard to imagine a better matched pair of acts or, indeed, a better venue to witness them at.