The ebbs, flows, ripples, and rapids of The River live performances 🏞️

This thread is dedicated to discussion of live performances of The River.
One of the earlier definitive King Gizzard songs, and a cornerstone in their jamming abilities, it is currently their fifth most-played song. The River flows like another long road, and the progression of the band itself can be measured not only in the artistic leap it took them to compose it — but how its performances have evolved from re-creating the studio version in the early years, through now to the first hints of purely improvised ‘Type 2’ jams that are recently being attached to it.

The easiest way to find performances is through the link above and then by checking the setlist pages for embedded recordings. If there are none there, you may find one has simply not yet been added from the King Gizzard Live Spreadsheet (thanks @Gizzhenge), where in the vast majority of cases you can manually find it (if a recording is available at all).

In the hope of being able to clearly describe what sets particular versions apart from others, I have done a little analysis.
Please describe the song however you feel is natural, this is by no means definitive but just my way of breaking down the song through repeated listens of the studio version and comparison with how they use it’s structure during live performances:

Intro (0:00-0:29):
I’ve come to think of the very first bit of music you hear (‘da nana da na na’ on guitar) as the ‘Brubeck pattern’. It’s basically the musical core of the song, and it’s the part that sounds most like it’s inspiration, Dave Brubeck/Paul Desmond’s Take Five, in both melodic shape and rhythm. The intro ends with a satisfied ‘ahhhh’ from Stu.
Part 1 - ‘In the zone’ (0:30-2:49):
This is the first of two lyrical sections, beginning on “Once you’re in the zone”. It sounds bright and bubbly, and it ends after the repetitions of ‘down dowwwn’.
Part 2 - ‘Stone flow’ (2:50-6:17):
This is the main instrumental section. It has a much colder, river-rapids vibe and is usually the basis for live jamming.
It features several distinctive riffs that serve as anchor points in jams, such as when the flow really kicks in at 3:12 with one that has a sort of sprinkling/splashing sound.
Another is the scale-based one at 4:50 that Gizzhendge describes as having the sense of paddling upstream.
The flow ebbs at about 5:10 and these are the parts that often signify the end of live jams, such as the ‘rippling’ sounds at 5:22.
At 5:45, they build suspense for part 3 (‘dananananana…’), then echo the intro by going back into the Brubeck pattern before the vocals start again.
Part 3 - ‘Frozen over home’: (6:18-8:14):
This is essentially a repeat of Part 1 with slightly different lyrics that start with “Frozen over home”. Occasionally Stu has notified the band they are about to enter this section by saying that line off-mic, but in practice, the lyrics from the different parts are often chopped and changed seemingly by whatever comes to mind first, particularly when returning after a longer jam.
Part 4 - ‘Trust in the river’ (8:15-10:10):
The final part serves as an instrumental reprisal and outro. Bass and guitar come together in unison to repeat melodies from vocal lines, such as at 8:40 with the “Trust in the river” lyric. There is another ‘big’ sounding melody at 9:40 that signifies the end of the studio version, but can kick off a solo live.

Is there one definitive performance? Likely not, but let’s sink into the waterfall flow, float down, and find out.

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Here’s one I prepared earlier for 2023-06-04, the Caverns Amphitheatre outdoor acoustic set that chills hard:

Two lead guitarists are seated at the front of the stage with an upright piano over in Ambrose’ position on the side. They begin with a very loose intro jam that really only shares a time signature with the recorded version. The jam solidifies into the studio version in preparation to start part 1.
The Brubeck pattern played on piano is a very nice touch that makes the song sound very much more like Take Five. Once the lyrics are over, they are already running a minute over time on the normal version as they begin part 2.
This instrumental jam breaks the order straight away by starting on the ripple-like riff that usually ends the part. A quick pace has been maintained the whole time, and this rapidity becomes most evident as the jam gets underway; faint melodies from the recorded version are woven between improvised passages based heavily on intense rhythmic strumming. This emphasis on the strumming begins to gain an almost Flamenco-like quality as like the raging of white wash. Cavs picks up the volume and intensity, suddenly reminding you that his technique is based on playing thrash metal for hours at a time.
Inevitably it all drops away into some disjointed picking & a lighter tone.
Again the rippling riff marks the start of the next part, which turns out to be a morph into Wah Wah. Joey reels it back with The River again and Stu takes the opportunity to amp himself up with an exuberant ‘fuck yeah’ into the mic and to tell the crowd how much fun they are having. This turns into an interlude about how King Gizz ‘can chill with the rest’, while the band clarify that Stu is the one person they know who cannot chill.
Wah Wah begins proper, with a fresh acoustic sound and more improvised elements. This coasts for a while, but soon the familiar ‘danananana’ before part 3 has them drift all the way back. The wistful vibes that start to signal the ending phases come in, and Cavs relishes a cymbal crescendo building up to a huge yeah! into the ‘Frozen Over Home’ verse of part 3. A few flourishes make you question what they’ll do to finish, and a couple more Wah Wah teases calm it down (doowwn) for a false ending that fools Joey who loudly exclaims ‘fuck’ when he realises Stu still isn’t done.
Ending without part 4 would be unusual, but trust in The River, because everyone comes back in to do it justice. We know Stu is finally ready to move on when he interjects with a loose Ice V tease, and they wrap it up without ceremony.

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I’m transferring my original thoughts and reviews from last month for the complete 2015 versions available:

There are approximately 70 live complete recordings of The River and growing, but not all of those are complete versions of the song. I’m starting this journey to listen to every complete recordings of The River with a review of the studio version of the song. I probably haven’t listened closely to the studio version of The River off Quarters in over a year. The last time was likely just prior to the April 2022 NorCal shows that launched my King Gizz fandom into Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s storms. Since those shows I’ve mostly listened to live Gizz with the exception of the newer albums or songs they don’t play live. I’ve heard all of these versions of The River at least once in building out the spreadsheet, but it will be good to revisit everything with a closer ear.

I definitely prefer most live versions of The River compared to the studio version. The studio version seems more laid back with less bounce and sometimes less tempo, especially moving into the 2nd and 4th sections (using Wyatt’s 4-part breakdown of the song pinned to this thread). In addition to Wyatt’s description, I’d like to point out 4 specific parts of the song that resonate for me in most live versions I’ve heard, and kind of act as guideposts along the way, particularly as the song gets longer and more improvised. Live versions are now sometimes 20 minutes or longer, or twice as long as the 10:10 studio version.

The first guidepost for me is just the beginning of section 2, or at 2:51 of the studio version. Many live versions will have a faster tempo and more of a bounce that can really push section 2 of the song into very psychedelic and experimental jam territory. I’m not 100% positive, but I suspect that the stretching of the song from 10:10 in the studio to over 20 minutes live often comes from the jams developed in the 2nd section. It will be interesting to figure that out as part of this project.

The 2nd guidepost is at 4:47-:4:55. It sounds like some type of scale on guitar, but as I’m not a musician and I can’t describe it well. I will say that if I think of the song as a real or metaphorical river, and we’re always heading down, down, downstream, this brief 8 second riff sounds or feels like paddling upstream or against the current, if ever so briefly. I’ll probably refer to this little snippet as the “upstream” section or “upstream riff” unless something better and more accurate comes along.

The 3rd guidepost is at 6:05, or rather should be at 6:05 in the studio version if it was there. When played live, Stu typically gives a big audible sigh or “ahhhhhh” at the start of section 3. Its almost as if the bigger and more insane the previous section 2 is, the bigger and more cathartic that sigh becomes. When just right, I can feel the tension just melt…down down down. In the studio version, the “ahhhh” is at the start of section 1 or just 17 seconds in and does not occur in section 3. I’ll try to pay attention to how this “ahhhhh” timing changes over time.

The 4th and final guidepost is in section 4 per Wyatt’s guide. Its the big guitar riff at 9:41 that typically leads into a more frenzied guitar solo in the live versions, but it kind of peters out on the studio version as the song ends 30 seconds later.

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To kick off the live portion of the project, we could not be more fortunate to have 2015-06-14 and 2015-06-15 a pair of shows at Happy Dog, part of the legendary Euclid Tavern in Cleveland, OH. As a disclaimer I grew up in Cleveland and frequented the Euclid Tavern a few times in high school and college summer break in the 90s, so there is some hometown pride involved here. These shows don’t need any help though. There are only 6 complete show recordings from 2015 and most are on my list of favorite recordings from the Eric years. If you haven’t heard these shows I highly recommend adding to your queue. The Rivers at these shows aren’t even the best parts imo, for me its Muckraker night 1 and Head On/Pill night 2, both played immediately after The River.

2015-06-14 – Like most early Rivers, this version goes almost right into the vocals and has the initial “ahhhh” just 14 seconds in. The beginning of section 2 at 3:00 feels much bouncier than the studio version, but the “upstream” section at 4:54 is less pronounced, as is the “ahhhh” at 6:00 and big riff at 9:18. (I won’t always add these times as markers, but I thought it might help until people become more familiar with the details).

2015-06-15 – The structure is very similar as the prior night, including having “ahhhhh” vocals at start of both section 1 and section 3. The upstream (4:54) and big riff (9:26) sections both seem more pronounced and enjoyable than prior night, and overall I think it’s a slightly better version than night 1 in most respects. Except there is a guitar or maybe harmonica tone that seems slightly off to my ears from 3:22 to around 3:45….not sure if intentional, but it gives me an overall more uneasy feeling vs. ecstatic psychedelic feeling in what is usually some of my favorite part of the song. I almost forgot to mention, there are some pretty decently timed screams and woooos from audience around 5:14 that add to the recording imo…its nice when it adds to it and doesn’t detract.

2015-06-19 – The Bowery Ballroom, NY, USA. Another very good 2015 complete recording, this time from NYC Taper. Per the archive.org description, it is a SBD/Aud matrix. Similar to the Cleveland shows, this entire set deserves a listen. Also check out why Muckraker is tops of my bustout wish list for my next show whenever that may be. The River is very similar to the Cleveland versions with immediate vocals and 2 ahhhh parts. The second ahhhh and the upstream section (5:27) are less pronounced than the 2nd Cleveland show, but still mostly audible. I really couldn’t pick out the ending big riff though, except maybe played on harmonica at 10:00. I do like the audience fake-out with the false ending of section 3…this will eventually become common going forward. While I think parts of section 2 jams might have been a bit more interesting than N2 Cleveland, overall I think I still prefer the energy of that recording. This is still a very solid version worth a listen to see if you can start to pick up the subtle differences in versions.

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2015-06-24 – Baby’s Alright, NYC, NY, USA. This is another amazing complete SBD/AUD matrix from NYC Taper of another must listen 2015 show. Its the standard early version of The River very close to the studio version with the quick jump to lyrics, or essentially no introduction. I’m getting more curious when the intro section was incorporated as I really don’t think we can say its part of section 1. Perhaps we will begin to hear an intro section next year in 2016 versions. This version has a really strong transition into section 2….and is super crisp and bouncy with the harmonica very much in harmony with the guitars imo. Upstream section at 4:48 is distinct and the transition into section 3 seems well executed. Second ahhhhh is audible, but still nothing like what it will become in recent years. The false ending fools the crowd a bit. Section 4 seems a bit sludgy or gnarly with a nonstandard harmonica tone I think. The big ending riff is again played on harmonica instead of guitar at 9:20 and doesn’t lead to much, similar to the previous version from Bowery Ballroom. The amazing SBD matrix recording quality on this really helps it stand out, especially section 3 imo, but we are not hearing anything super different yet, just some subtle and pretty subjective differences. Make sure to stick around for Muckraker right after The River!

2015-09-02 – KEXP in Seattle.

This is a very popular KEXP version of The River, but imo not significantly different then the live versions we discussed previously, and in some ways not as exciting as the previous versions. Having the video vs. the previous audio only versions is super nice though and totally reminds me that Stu is playing the 12 string in these earlier versions…what a badass. One audio aspect I do really like from this is the beginning of section 2 when Stu is audibly setting the time with the “duca, duca, duca” vocal sounds at 2:50. The upstream section at 4:35 is very strong and pronounced. Interestingly like the studio version, there is no second “ahhhh” from Stu at start of section 3 and I do miss that little release. Without a crowd, the false ending feels like some awkward silence a bit. Section 4, might the strongest part of this version with the big riff (played by Joey it seems) at 9:06 is clean and also closely resembles the studio version. Overall this a great early version of The River and probably most closely resembles the studio of any other version. Not my favorite, but it has its merits.

2015-09-11 – The Earl, Atlanta –
• This video is a riot from the opening overheard conversation: “what?” “I’m so gay, I’m sorry….I’m sorry” while Stu stokes a ciggy no handed.
• Perhaps it was the cigarette, but this is the first instance without the opening “ahhhh” that is on the studio version, but of course we are missing lots of earlier 2015 shows.
• 40 seconds in and woah, almost a jump scare lol. Haha where does she keep appearing from?
• Solid section 2 coming to a bit of a crescendo around 4:02. Upstream riff at 4:30 is as psychedelic and dope as it gets in these earlier versions.
• This might be the first ”ahhhh” I really believe from Stu at 5:39.
• Crowed totally faked out…”hell fucking yeah”……love the “wooo” to start section 4…think that becomes a regular thing too.
• The big riff at 9:09 is audible, but drowned a bit by rest of band, but you can still catch a nice little solo from Joey. Still a pretty abrupt ending though.

Maybe it’s the crowd, or Stu throughout, or the big “ahhhh”, but its one of my favs so far. However, I’m still looking ahead to another version from 2015 that I recall being very good from 1st time around building the spreadsheet.

2015-09-12 – Hopscotch Festival at The Pour House, Ashville, NC
This is another outstanding 2015 complete recording SBD/AUD matrix with a juicy setlist. This one is from acidjack, not that Jack though since Mystery Jack’s first shows were 2016 I believe. It kind of seems like this group of 2015 SBD/AUD matrix recordings are the first unofficial, official bootlegs as somehow they got SBD recordings.
The festival crowd provides a great audio backdrop. It’s nice to hear what sounds like a larger crowd then you are used to hearing at these 2015 US shows. This River is played with the confidence of a band that has been jamming this song every night the last 4 months. Section 2, the upstream, ahhhh, big guitar riff/solo in section 4, all of it is really strong imo. Make sure to stick around for the Cut Throat Boogie later in the set. The next show in Philly though is the 2015 version of The River I recall really enjoying 1st time through. Let’s see if it’s what I remember it to be.

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2015-09-13 – Johnny Brenda’s – Philadelphia, PA

I remember really enjoying this version when I heard this show last year. I’ve been very curious if it has held up to my fond memories. Some cheers of recognition from the crowd is a great way to start the song. This seems to be an audience recording, so not quite as high of quality as the SBDs, but still very good sounding from markid aneight who is still recording King Gizz shows today, producing some of the best audience recordings. The 2nd section seems a bit faster than any previous version and comes to a couple of mini crescendos both before and after the upstream riff. At least through section 2 this is my favorite. The crowd is loving it and we get a pretty cathartic ahhhh coming back into the vocals of section 3. The false ending is great with lots of cheers which seems to feed into a strong final section and crisp clear big riff section and little solo/jam to end it. In retrospect I think this is the best version yet from 2015. Maybe it’s the real or perceived increased tempo in the 2nd section, or the loud crowd enjoyment, or the cool visual of the 7 of them squeezed onto the small stage, but I love this version. Those aspects combined with them hitting all the key sections definitely make it stand out, but not by any huge amount yet. We still have not strayed that far from the studio version.

2015-09-15 – WFUV Public Radio – New York, NY

The final complete recording of The River for 2015. Its very similar to the KEXP version, but feels a bit looser, especially through section 2. It has both Ahhhh sections and a very strong ending big riff from Joey. This is better than the KEXP version imo.

Having finished what is available from 2015, here are top 5. We aren’t seeing huge variance yet. If this were statistics, the standard deviation would be tiny af.

  1. 2015-09-13 - Johnny Brenda’s – Philadelphia, PA
  2. 2015-09-12 - Hopscotch Festival at The Pour House - Ashville, NC
  3. 2015-09-11 - The Earl - Atlanta, GA
  4. 2015-06-15 - Happy Dog - Cleveland, OH (night 2)
  5. 2015-09-15 - WFUV Public Ratio – New York, NY
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2016-02-15 - Gorilla, Manchester, England

Given the poorer sound quality of this recording, the most interesting aspect of this version of The River might be what is played immediately prior, the rare performance of Evil Man. Otherwise, this River seems pretty similar to most 2015 versions. It could well be the best version they played up to that point, but the recording quality makes that impossible to determine. The smallish crowd seemed to love it though.

2016-02-28 - Z-Bau, Nuremberg, Germany

This is an average audience recording of a well-played version of The River, although it is noticeable the recording was made close to stage. There is astonishingly little audience sounds on this one…you could hear a pin drop at the end of part 3 until you finally hear the crowd at the beginning of part 4, as they skip the usually false ending.

2016-03-02 - Ancienne Belgique, Brussels, Belgium

This is one of my favorite pro shot videos from the Eric years, check out the opening Head On/Pill if you haven’t already. This River is probably as good as any from 2015 with crisp playing throughout. It hits all the important marks for early versions…good upstream riff, great “ahhhh” from Stu into strong part 3 vocals, a solid false ending fake-out, and finally into a jammy part 4 with great big riff solo to wrap it up. Stick around for the super high-intensity Evil Death Roll immediately following!

2016-05-01 Levitation at The Barracuda in Austin, TX

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard Live at The Barracuda on 2016-05-01 : Free Borrow & Streaming : Internet Archive

This is the official bootlegger released by King Gizzard. Stu’s vocals seem a bit high in the mix for my tastes…but the instrumental parts 2 and 4 sound as good as any versions up to this point.

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2016-05-06 - The Grey Eagle, Ashville, NC, USA

First thing to note is that this is probably one of the first complete shows added to YouTube back in 2016, just 3 days after the show. Joey describes ‘The River’ as a jazz song but its fine to mosh, or they can try to mosh. Another nice version, but maybe a bit jazzier than usual, like Joey’s comment impacted the playing. The guitar effects keep the psychedelic vibe. The big riff was dialed back with Amby’s harmonica coming through more than the guitar. It felt like they used it as a breather for the crowd as it was sandwiched between Mind Fuzz and Evil Death Roll, their heavier songs at the time.

2016-05-13 - The Sinclair, Cambridge, MA, USA

Just before The River we get Cookie’s birthday celebration and his first time ever crowd surfing, oh so briefly…he’s a big boy. There is a nice crowd reaction right as they begin as the song has become a favorite now a year after its release. It almost felt like they wanted to extend part 2, but instead just kind of stalled for a few extra bars, building a little extra tension before gingerly moving into part 3 with a minimal “ahhhh” from Stu. There was a solid false ending and closing jam through section 4, but still firmly within the original studio structure with minimal differences.

2016-05-14#2 Bowery Ballroom, Brooklyn, NY, USA

This one is unique because Stu stops the song near the beginning to save a fan from getting escorted from the show. This seems to give the song a bit of a boost, but unfortunately the sound quality doesn’t match a lot of other versions. The stage dancer is a trip but I think crosses the line into a distraction. Like with the Cambridge version prior the transition between part 2 and 3 seems to be getting a little drawn out and slower (6:40-7:10), which builds a little more tension ahead of the “ahhhhh”, but still far from an extended jam this section would eventually become. The part 4 closing jam sounds funky with a strong big riff and solo…I’d love to hear some better audio of it.

2016-05-23 - The New Parish, Oakland, CA, USA

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard Live at The New Parish on 2016-05-23 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

This venue is like 2 miles away…I can’t believe they played so close and I can’t believe there is a decent audience recording. Its a pretty standard version at ~10:30, but probably my favorite of 2016 so far, but that is likely about to change with the San Francisco show on deck.

2016-05-25 - The Independent, San Francisco, CA, USA

This sounds great! It’s as good as any previous versions so far. They had 2 false endings, 1st after part 2 of the song, and then again at the end of part 3, and includes the infamous “fuck yeah Dickhead” from an unknown fan. Hearing all these fairly standard versions, even as good as they are, is really setting me up for any kind of material change in the arrangement.

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