Lex Live (05)
Live at Belmont (06)
Glass Hammer - Lex Live
To be honest, I have a tough time with Glass Hammer's studio albums. Not "tough" really. It's just that they sort of leave me cold. I keep feeling like I should really like this band because they're playing such interesting notes, and lots of them. But the studio albums don't touch my soul, they just appeal to my brain. However, when I heard their Live at NEARFest CD, I could scarcely believe it. I was at that concert and it didn't come across sounding like this at all. This was brilliant, inspired and chock full of soul and emotion. This is what this music is supposed to sound like!
Though the NEARFest concert isn't available on DVD (at least so far), a very similar concert as far as line-up and songlist goes, was released as Lex Live. God, it pains me to say it, but ... OK, get ready with the throwing vegetables ... these guys really are the new Yes. Everything Yes used to have and now lost, Glass Hammer's got it. Where did Chris Squire's incredible Rickenbacker sound and nimble, fluid melodic lines go? Why right into Steve Babb's fingers. And those Rick Wakeman synth trills, Mozart-like piano and other classical music stylings? Keyboardist Fred Schendel's got 'em, and without Wakeman's attitude problems (OK, he's better now, but back when Yes was in their heyday, he certainly had problems). They even have spiritual lyrics on many of their songs, though their brand of spirituality is a bit more mainstream than Yes's. Still, they'd prefer to be known as a progressive rock band first rather than a christian band, simply because of the usual associations people make with "Christian Rock" ... it's folky, light, uplifting and ... uhm ... boring. I can see why they'd rather not be associated with that preconception.
Glass Hammer live also has a few things Yes never had. GH has wild and wooley drum basher Matt Mendians who looks (and sounds!) as if he's about to come apart at the seams at any moment, especially during drum solos. I think he's one of the main reasons I like the live concerts better. He's much looser and more energetic than on the studio albums, where Fred Schendel handled the drums until recently. They have a trio of very clean-cut looking young ladies singing backup (and occasional lead) vocals. They have Walter Moore on vocals and also handling all the guitar work Schendel did for the album, while Schendel tries to play all the keyboards both he and Babb played for the studio recording.
Probably the most amazing thing about Lex Live is that it was never supposed to be able to happen at all! Glass Hammer had made a decision to stop playing live before they recorded Lex Rex (the album), so they intentionally wrote music that would be impossible to perform live. They laughed about it during the recording process. But then, they were asked to perform at NEARFest on the condition that they play Lex Rex. Knowing they couldn't turn this down, they set about figuring out how they could possibly play their own music live. Well, actually, I haven't heard the studio version of this album, so I can't say how well it translated to live performance. What I can say is that this DVD is easily among the best recordings in my sizeable collection of prog, and that's including every CD and piece of vinyl I own. It's just spectacular! Both the recording quality and the videography are great, and there's a bunch of nice extras on the DVD, including my favorite, a music video of the recording of Lex Rex with Steve Babb and Fred Schendel playing (almost) all the instruments in the studio. Very cleverly done, and it's also my only insight into how the studio version sounds.
Bottom line: if you're a symphonic prog fan at all, buy this DVD!. -- Fred Trafton
Glass Hammer - Live at Belmont
When the package from Glass Hammer arrived and Live at Belmont fell into my hands as I opened it, my first thought was, "OK, now's my chance to test my theory about live vs. studio versions of these guys". My theory, as I mentioned in the previous review, is that I like them better live than in the studio. I had just reviewed The Inconsolable Secret CD a couple of months back. Though I liked it, I again thought that it was just lacking something in spite of the epic scope, brilliant writing and superb playing by all. It even sported artwork and a new logo by esteemed prog-art icon Roger Dean. On top of that, Matt Mendians had been absorbed as the band's drummer, and though this helped, it still seemed a bit on the sterile side. Not bad, you understand, in fact I liked the album. It just seemed like there could be more ... something ...
So, I popped in the DVD. WOW!!! OK, my theory is confirmed. I really like Glass Hammer better live than in the studio. Live at Belmont is an incredible tour de force, containing many songs from The Inconsolable Secret that have been infused with vitamins in these versions, and also brilliant live versions of songs from earlier albums. In spite of a new vocalist Carl Groves (of Salem Hill, still sight-reading the music, the lyrics or both during the concert) and new guitarist David Wallimann, this sounds like a band that has been playing together all their lives. Incredibly tight execution on equally incredibly intricate songs. Man, are these folks all pros. Many other reviewers have said something along the lines of "this DVD is the next best thing to being there". I doubt it. I'll bet this is even BETTER than being there, since the camera angles move around to places you'd never get to see without being escorted away by security, and any sound imbalances or room acoustic flaws have been corrected in the mix. If you like BIG, grand, ostentatious and bombastic prog (boy, do I miss those days!), it just doesn't get better than this. As much as I loved the Lex Live DVD, this one is even better. Really.
The need to say nice things about this DVD in particular is the main reason I added the DVD section to the GEPR. Because I just couldn't keep silent about this release, and it just didn't fit in the standard GEPR format. So there you have it! -- Fred Trafton
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