Glass Hammer are simply one of the best progressive rock bands going today. I remember hearing their 2001 release, Chronometree, and being blown away by its old-school keyboard and guitar sounds, and humorous storyline. Since then, I’ve followed the band and had occasion to chat with head Hammers Steve Babb and Fred Schendel and can attest that they are not only excellent songwriters and musicians, they are also very nice guys.
Like most Glass Hammer fans, I’ve wished to see them perform live, but their concerts are something of a rarity so I’ve consigned myself to watching them on DVD. Their latest such effort, Live At The Tivoli, captures Glass Hammer (from two shows) playing in 2006 before a hometown crowd in Chattanooga, TN. Backed by the Adonia Strings, the GPS Girls Choir and the 150-member strong Lee University Choral Union, GH performed a 10-song set, featuring material from Lex Rex, The Inconsolable Secret, Shadowlands and The Compilations, 1996 to 2004. As well, we’re treated to a performance of “Eiger Dreams,” a track available on the band’s Web site as a digital download only.
Glass Hammer proper are an eight-piece band: Babb (bass, vocals), Schendel (keyboards, vocals), Carl Groves (lead vocals), Matt Mendians (drums), David Walliman (guitar), Susie Bogdanowicz (vocals), Bethany Warren (vocals) and Flo Paris (vocals). Although Babb and Schendel are the leaders, they rule graciously, giving Groves, Walliman and Mendians plenty of room to shine. Mendians and Walliman, particularly, give revelatory performances here. Walliman flies across the fretboard with ease, as if he were tying his shoes. Mendians is a master of the accent, using a simple cymbal splash to great effect. They’re both monster musicians. The Choral Union sounds spectacular, particularly on the shining outro to “Knight Of The North” (my favorite track of the lot) or the ethereal choral solo “Beati Quorum Via.” Groves and band take Dan Fogelberg’s “Longer” from its humble beginnings as a simple guitar/vocal love song and guide it on a sweeping journey. A real treat. Hammer close the show with the concluding Inconsolable Secret track, “Having Caught A Glimpse,” on which Paris sings with an almost impossibly angelic voice. The song ends with a religious-like intensity and spirit. It’s like attending service at the church of progressive rock. (I think it’s in Canterbury?)
Before unplugging the gear, Hammer return for an encore – the classic Yes track “South Side Of The Sky.” Bogdanowicz comes center stage and does a fantastic job singing, sounding more like Jon Anderson than you might imagine. I like the footage of Schendel playing Rick Wakeman’s memorable keyboard parts, from piano to synthesizer, and watching Babb bring it home on the bass. As the band rock out, the Choral Union members can be seen in the background, swaying to and fro with the song. A fitting end.
Live At The Tivoli can be played in stereo or 5.1 Dolby Digital – due to a system glitch, I wasn’t able to experience the surround option. Judging from the reports of those who have, it’s the way to hear this. Still, the two-channel mix is pretty good.