This ‘mostly’ live set from Italy shows that the ‘quartet version’ of Glass Hammer was more than up to the task.
Glass Hammer Mostly Live in Italy
Sound Resources / Arion Records
10 tracks / 73:54
Glass Hammer Mostly Live in Italy is a generously-packed single-disc project. Consisting of live versions of the bulk of the Valkyrie album, a “Glass Hammer Medley,” and “Hyperbole,” (from the Three Cheers for the Broken Hearted project), the nearly 74 minutes of music should satisfy any avid prog fan. There’s little point in analyzing these songs that have already won the hearts of the band’s worldwide audience, but what exactly is the difference in hearing the songs in a live context? And what about this ‘mostly live’ business? Read on…
With prog music in particular, there are not a lot of surprises expected in live performances – the real value of the live performance recording is the tweak here, the new bit of phrasing there, and especially the visceral passion that a live audience often draws from the performer. While not as noticeable as in, let’s say a blues concert, still that extra element of unpredictability in a live show adds a layer of flavor that’s subtle but refreshing to the ear and the soul. Most of us know that even ‘live’ albums often get a bit of post-production help in the studio, but the case of Glass Hammer Mostly Live in Italy is somewhat unique. For whatever reason – and it isn’t really explained anywhere in the packaging – the band “knew going in that the guitar tracks would need replacing,” according to bass guitarist and co-founder Steve Babb. Hmmm. Okay. For whatever reason, the studio guitar work – done by keyboardist/vocalist Fred Schendel, by the way – was produced after-the-fact. Glass Hammer, now a quartet with three instrumentalists (the aforementioned Babb and Schendel along with Aaron Raulston on drums) and the solid, familiar voice of Suzie Bogdanowicz, form a solid core to this band that’s always had a rotating guest list of guitarists and vocalists.
Certainly, this ‘mostly’ live set from Italy shows that the ‘quartet version’ of Glass Hammer was more than up to the task. Exactly what the Italian audience actually heard remains – at least to this reviewer – a tantalizing mystery. Were there guitar parts that were replaced or none at all? The songs certainly are well-composed enough to hold their own with or without the solos but the whole proposition is intriguing. At any rate, the band is tight and powerful. Schendel’s keyboards are impressive, as expected – filling the venue with a cathedral’s-worth of massive, drenching sound from a very gothic-sounding organ. Babb’s bass is as distinct and crisp as ever, propelling the melodies along while Raulston’s drums are a locomotive pleasure to listen to. Suzie Bogdanowicz’s voice is as controlled and powerful as ever, serving the music rather than subverting it with vocal histrionics.
While some of the vocal mixing might be a little bit low (for me, anyway), the overall sound is strong and amazingly resilient for what’s essentially a three-piece. Oh yeah, there’s that guitar that was added… pretty clever – and sure sounds like part of the show. I do wish that the audience was more of a presence in the ambiance of the album – a minor point perhaps, but I like to sense a bit of audience involvement in the music when it’s a live recording. ….and what exactly did that audience hear? It would be interesting to find out some day – too bad there’s no ‘special features’ menu on a CD. Still, Glass Hammer Mostly Live in Italy has plenty of what Glass Hammer fans have always loved – articulate lyrics, intricate, powerful musical passages, and Babb, Schendel, Bogdanowicz, and Raulston.