(08 July 2006) The Live At Belmont Sound Resources (USA) SR-1726, 2006) double DVD is clearly the most ambitious undertaking by Glass Hammer. The DVD includes the latest rendition of the band's lineup: Steve Babb (bass), Fred Schendel (keyboards), Matt Mendians (drums), David Wallimann (electric guitar), Carl Groves (vocals), Susie Bogdanowicz (vocals), Bethany Warren (vocals), Flo Paris (vocals) and Eric Parker (acoustic guitar, steel guitar). Also appearing on the DVD are The Adonia String Trio: Rebecca James (violin), Susan Hawkins (viola) and Rachel Hackenberger (cello). As a bonus, Belmont University's 150+ member choir also performs on selected tracks.
Glass Hammer are largely a studio band so the recording of a live performance is a huge treat for those that love the band's material but are not fortunate enough to catch one of their rare live performances. This release is superbly mixed in 5.1 surround sound and is overflowing with excitement, full of personality and emotion, expertly performed and will command the attention of all that view and listen to the project. The sound and camera work are both excellent with cuts typical of music videos not being overly intrusive.
The first DVD is comprised of the complete live performance while the second DVD contains a vast array of bonus features we'll discuss later. The opening number, "Long And Long Ago" from The Inconsolable Secret is masterfully performed by the band with their rock instrumentals blended perfectly with and suitably offset by the string section. Flo Paris delivers a heartwrenching and totally stunning vocal solo.
"One King" originally appearing on Lex Rex is up next by the electronic band and ladies of Glass Hammer alone. Vast progressive instrumental riffs are washed with the ladies' vocals but the piece is vocally dominated by Carl Groves, an outstanding addition to the band. Pay particular attention to Suzie's dramatic backing vocals in the piece. Matt Mindians opens the stunning "Run Lisette" from Shadowlands with a drum solo. The strings return in this vocally-laden piece, clearly showing the virtuousity of the three ladies'--especially some of the breaks with the strings and solos that follow. Bethany's superbly executed solo backed by Susie and Flo is breathtaking.
The DVD continues with "Farewell To Shadowlands," a dramatic progressive instrumental never leaving the band's ELP or Yes allusions far behind. However, dense vocals continue to illustrate the range and power of the women of Glass Hammer fill the track's main passage. Flo, Bethany and Susie begin the vocal line together before Susie takes the lead in a tremendous solo. David Wallimann's excellent guitar solo echoes before the vocals return, everyone singing in perfect harmony as the song concludes.
Fred Schendel's lovely keyboard intro to "Through a Glass Darkly," a tender ballad originally from The Inconsolable Secret precedes a warmly arranged string passage. But clearly it is Susie Bogdanowicz' powerfully- and emotionally-delivered solo vocal performance that is the highlight of this track. Carl Groves joins vocally transforming the song to a dramatic duet. Excellent video editing brings the two together on screen.
The string section opens "Knight of the North" before the dynamic progressive instrumentals set in and join the band's arrangement. Lush Glass Hammer male-only harmonies produce the lyrical passages. David's rapidfire electric guitar solos perfectly contrast Fred's ELP-style keyboard riffs. The tempo changes across the piece add substantial drama to the arrangement. A wide range of solos fill out the concluding passages of the track; a Steve Howe-style steel guitar solo is also superb.
The DVD begins to draw to its dramatic conclusion with the glorious track "When We Were Young" (from Lex Rex)as the choir quietly assumes their position, while Fred Schendel and David Wallimann perform glorious keyboard and guitar solos respectively. Steve Babb's and Fred Schendel's lead vocals are performed wonderfully between thick and melodic synth and guitar riffs. The powerful 150+ person choir joins at mid-track adding vocalise and lush texture to the progressive arrangements. The power of this huge ensemble is perfectly captured in video as well.
The band continue with the choir continue their performance with the epic number "Having Caught a Glimpse," that also concludes The Inconsolable Secret. The memorable theme is introduced on keyboard and echoed in guitar. Flo Paris delivers a tremendous vocal solo--captured wonderfully in video--at the beginning of the track in a duet with Carl Groves. The rich choir textures, bass, guitar, string and numerous keyboard solos and further harmonies from the ladies create significant interest in this epic. The audience's standing ovation clearly demonstrates the ensemble's successful performance.
The album concludes with the group's encore, a robust rendition of "Heroes and Dragons" (the concluding song from Lex Rex)performed by the entire cast. Vocally rich, the number is sung by Carl Groves and backed by the ladies. Thank yous, bows and credits conclude the live performance and the DVD.
The second DVD in the set is full of interesting bonus material. Each accompanied with slide shows, there are stunning 5.1 surround mixes of "Tales Of The Great Wars" (a remix of the track originally appearing on Lex Rex) and "Lirazel" (a remix of the track originally appearing on The Inconsolable Secret) and a range of two channel stero features. Here you'll find an incredibly indepth slide show with commentary full of pictures of all of the artists and the most incredible collection of the Glass Hammer ladies every published. There is also a Behind-The-Scenes video, a rehearsal video, and a 2003 concert appearances video (don't expect much of this set though). The DVD concludes with the everso intriguing trailer that launched this DVD set.
Clearly Live At Belmont illustrates Glass Hammer at their very best. A strong lineup, lots of female vocals this time and equally powerful material deliver a tremendous performance. The double DVD is great value and provides the world a chance to see one of the rare live performances of this progressive superpower.
Read further reviews and order the DVD set at amazon.com or from the band's website. The DVD set is a progressive rock masterwork.