In writing a review for Glass Hammer's Live at NEARfest, I have to ask myself: "do I make this a concert review, or simply a review of the CD itself?" After all I was in attendance at NEARfest 2003, and I remember the Glass Hammer set quite well…
So why not make this a little of both?
I remember it was a rather hot day outside The War Memorial in Trenton, New Jersey. The outrageous Sleepytime Gorilla Museum had just finished a rather bizarre yet rollicking set, and Glass Hammer was next on the bill. Talk about contrasts! Going from where a band went onstage wearing animal masks and having a dark image, to a band that were featuring songs about a search for glory being found in Jesus Christ was a quantum leap indeed!
Meanwhile backstage Glass Hammer was having to deal with a joke of a sound check! Steve Babb notes the events
in the expanded notes from the "Live at NEARfest (written on the Expanded Liner Notes on the Glass Hammer website:
"Can anyone hear anything?" I queried.
"No!" from twenty-plus voices.
"Great!" said the stage manager. "Curtain opens in five minutes. Clear the stage!"
Back in the audience I eagerly awaited the band to take the stage. Finally I heard the words "greeeeeetings ladies and gentleman…" and it went into the opening announcements used on the Lex Rex album. In this case they were customized for the event of NEARfest 2003 with a nice dose of humor added within as well, as the word "Chronometree" was constantly mispronounced until it was clear that the first song was going to be from this uh chronoma, chro… well album!! The band appeared and tore into the song "Chronotheme". An excellent choice as an opener as it is a number that tends to build in power and tension, with keyboard master Fred Schendel getting a chance to rip on his mighty Hammond organ!
Now when listening to the CD, ones who were in attendance can immediately hear it's benefits. It was evident early on in the show there were some sound problems here and there due to the horrid sound check and adjustments were being made on the sound board as the show progressed. The Live at NEARfest gives Glass Hammer this long overdue sound check (thanks to the meticulous mixing and mastering of the live audio by Steve Babb and Fred Schendel). Despite the sound problems, the band were in excellent form and played a very tight and very spirited set. Even though the sound is improved dramatically on the CD, the performance was fantastic on that day. This does not change on the CD, for you hear it as it happened: this is pristine live Glass Hammer!
Most of the album Lex Rex is featured on this CD, and it sounds even bigger and bolder here live than it did in the studio! For an album Steve Babb had once said (to Fred Schendel) "let's make it huge… we'll never have to actually play this stuff!" this is quite a feat! Matt Mendians takes his drum solo "Cowboys and Mendians" just prior to "A Cup Of Trembling", and it is just as powerful here on the CD as it was when it thundered through the War Memorial that June afternoon in 2003, serving as a powerful set up to that song!
"Chronos Deliverer" features Fred making the steel guitar soar, while other band members shift and play other instruments. Steve takes the keyboards, as does Walter and acoustic guitarist Eric Parker takes over on bass. Vocalists Susie Bogdanowicz, Flo Parris, and Bethany Warren blend their voices with April's choir and a truly majestic choral backdrop jumps off of this CD and through the speakers!
Some live concerts have a special moment that makes it memorable; some bands feel fortunate to actually have gotten one. In this performance there were more than one! The moment when Rich Williams took the stage after vocalist/guitarist Walter Moore mentions he saw him "hanging out backstage" was "once in a lifetime"! Walter Moore was hitting Steve Walsh like notes as he, his hero, and the Glass Hammer band tore through the Kansas classic "Portrait (He Knew)".
One moment that will surely live in the minds of those who witnessed the show, and the performers on the stage forever is the song "Heaven" from the Perelandra album. This was a song where it's climax could bring tears to the eyes of the voices of the band, and the choir directed by April Bower all swelled in unison rising ever upwards where I have no doubt in my mind the One standing at the gates of the Heaven they sing of no doubt was smiling at this joyful noise. The choir are finally given their due on this CD, and while not being able to heard in parts of the War Memorial that day are heard loud and proud on the CD. They sound absolutely glorious!
The instruments on this recording can all be heard clearly, and all have such a great sound to them. As I mentioned before, Fred's Hammond simply roars, and this synthesizers slash. Walter's guitar has plenty of bite, and Matt's drums are thunderous! Steve's bass has one of the best sounds to it, this side of Geddy Lee and of course that chorus of voices, WOW! This is certainly one of the best live recordings I have had the priveledge to hear and I plan on hearing it again and again.
For the outstanding efforts of every musician and singer involved in this project, and the outstanding job of mixing and mastering this performance for this CD I give this album a well deserved 5 stars!
1. Greetings, Ladies and Gentlemen
3. Tales Of The Great Wars
4. One King
5. Further Up, Further In
6. Cowboys And Mendians
7. A Cup Of Trembling
8. Portrait (He Knew) - featuring Rich Williams of Kansas
9. Chronos Deliever
10. When We Were Young