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Music DVD Review: Glass Hammer – Live At The Tivoli

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When I first saw this new Glass Hammer DVD advertised, I assumed that it would feature a performance from this last year, and would also highlight their latest album, 2007's Culture Of Ascent. I was wrong on both accounts. Live At The Tivoli was actually recorded during the second of two shows that the band performed on October 17th, 2006, at the historic Tivoli Theater, in their hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The Tivoli performance comes only a year after Glass Hammer's Live At The Belmont DVD recording, and it too draws mostly from theirThe Inconsolable Secret double-CD of 2005. The rather short setlist was a disappointment. If you take away the short instrumental, "Eiger Dreams," and the choir-only performance, "Beati Quorum Via," you only end up with nine full songs – although one of them is over 20 minutes in length. Hey, if you're going to play so many epic length songs, then you gotta play for at least a couple of hours.

The first thing that struck me when I began watching this DVD was just how awful the video looked. I actually thought I had a bum disk that needed to be exchanged, since I had already read a couple of reviews giving it glowing remarks. They must have come from the band's publicist.

I did eventually come across a statement on the band's message boards from keyboardist Fred Schendel, where he admitted that the hard drive that had contained all of the original video of the shows had crashed, and he ended up having to re-rip the video from a compressed AVI file they had made as a rough cut. This obviously caused significant degradation in quality. He also complained that the camera crew did not really know the band's music, nor would they take the time to learn. That certainly helps to explain some of these deficiencies.

Fortunately, the audio recording faired much better, offering an expansive Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix that accurately captured the symphonic smorgasbord of sound you get from a live Glass Hammer show. As with their previous DVD, it's odd that they would only include a 5.1 surround track, and no stereo option.

The show kicks off with the rocking, instrumental, intro, "Eiger Dreams," which was written during the Culture Of Ascent sessions, but never made it on the album. It segues right into one of the band's very best songs, "Run Lisette," from their excellent Shadowlands album. Longtime band vocalists Susie Bogdanowicz, Bethany Warren, and Flo Paris do another stunning job with all of the song's intricate vocal harmonies to make it a highlight of this DVD, just as it was on Live At The Belmont.

"The Morning She Woke," from The Inconsolable Secret, was played next, although it was not listed on the DVD case or the press release track listing. A couple of tracks from my favorite Glass Hammer album, Lex Rex, are also trotted out early on and this is where the differences between new lead vocalist Carl Groves and former Glass Hammer vocalist Walter Moore are most evident. Groves, who also fronts the band Salem Hill, is a fine singer and is a good fit for Glass Hammer, but he is not one of the most inspiring frontmen in the business. Moore exuded much more passion and personality in his performances.

Glass Hammer transformed the Dan Fogelberg wedding standard, "Longer," into their own 10-minute progressive-rock epic on the Shadowlands album, and it is presented in all its glory here. The beginning of the song remains faithful to the original, with Groves accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, but after a couple of minutes Schendel's simple piano riff eventually launches a full-on prog assault. It's an alright cover, in its own strange kind of way, but I would have much preferred to hear "So Close, So Far," or "Behind The Great Beyond" from that same album.

Speaking of cover songs, it looks like the band had been rehearsing "South Side Of The Sky" for some time before they decided to include it on their Culture Of Ascent album. You get a more straight forward version of this Yes classic here, than what ended up on the album, but both versions are superb.

I realize that Glass Hammer does not have the budget of that British band whose song they covered so wonderfully, but I would expect each new DVD to be at least as good as the previous. Live At The Belmont was better in every respect. This material would have been better served as a bonus feature on their next professionally shot HD-DVD. I anxiously await that one.

Set List
01. Eiger Dreams
02. Run Lisette
03. The Morning She Woke
05. A Cup of Trembling
05. Lirazel
06. Heroes and Dragons
07. Longer
09. Knight of the North
09. Beati Quorum Via
10. Having Caught a Glimpse
11. South Side of the Sky

Performance 6/10
Production 6/10

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