OK. I'm very tired, but very happy. The show was excellent. It was a pleasure meeting the fine folks from the board as well as the performers. I was only able to thank 5 of the Lee Choral Union members face to face, but I think I got everybody else.
Back in 1997, I bought a disc called Wyzards - The Final Catastrophe on the recommendation of Ken Golden of The Laser's Edge. Ken said that it was somewhere between hard prog rock and prog metal, and it was Christian. Knowing nothing else about it, I bought it. Ken pegged my tastes perfectly. I loved it. I played it nearly non stop for two or three months. Ken made me aware that the guys in the band had another band that was also good. He told me that the other band was playing ProgDay.
Oddly enough, a old co-worker had invited me along to ProgDay. In the 80's, he listened to the weirdest stuff. He caught me in the mid 90's at the one prog rock specialty store in town with some fairly damaging evidence in my hands. He took it upon himself to be my mentor, calling me every couple of weeks with suggestions. He made all kinds of mix tapes for me as if I were some kind of project or, worse, romantic interest. What is it with prog nerds and mix tapes?
Anyway, I didn't go to ProgDay. Visions of sitting in the rain in a swamp in North Carolina listening to a bunch of junior grade Laurie Anderson type bands (my buddy's tastes ran all over the place) didn't appeal to me. I'd attended enough of those Creation / Cornerstone type events in the early 80's to get my fill of outdoor shows for one lifetime. Also - I'd been rudely rejected from the Rush TNMS mailing list after two (what I thought were fairly innocent) postings. I was universally despised on rec.music.progressive and once got 48 private emails in one day for mentioning non-prog bands too frequently. I was viewed with some combination of pity and distrust by the People of the South Wind for mentioning that I'd always thought the Elefante era was the best. So it wasn't merely the prospect of the weather. I didn't want to hang around prog nerds either. I was sort of afraid that they'd ask me about Rio, and I'd say that it was only an average Duran Duran song. I was also unable to say Happy the Cow or Henry the Man in casual conversation without giggling.
So, I skipped ProgDay 97. I also skipped ProgFest 95. I was born in Baltimore and most of my family still lives in the area, so I'd visit a couple times a year. On at least one trip, I'd try to drive over to whereever Chris Lamka's sound mind was at that point in time. He probably mentioned Glass Hammer or some other bands in connection to the event, but it would have gone in one ear and out the other back then.
Ken emailed me the exciting news that Wyzards was playing on the Sunday of Powermad 97 and that Bob Katz would be there doing the sound and I just had to see them. But the dude who scheduled the event put it on Thanksgiving weekend. It was great that I was already in town to see the family, so I could go to the Friday and Saturday of the show and get my ears blistered by approximately 47 power metal bands. But I'd promised Mom I take her to church and my sister's for Thanksgiving Part Deux on Sunday. Numerous internet friends told me that Wyzards had the only decent sound all weekend, and I was bummed for missing them.
During that weekend, Ken handed me Perelandra. Hands-down best recorded / produced / mastered prog rock CD in the last decade. He told me that I had to buy it just to hear the sound if nothing else. Actually, I liked more than the sound, I liked the whole disc. It was a gradual thing though. The Floydian "Into The Night" track was my favorite, so many times I'd just skip to that and play it and Heaven. It was shelved fairly quickly. I thought it was pretty good, but nothing to get excited about. The following year, Ken handed me On To Evermore and told me that I'd liked it as much as Perelandra. I didn't have the heart to tell him that Perelandra was OK but nothing great. I was also worried that he wouldn't be able to pay the electric bill for the billion dollar stereo system that he has in his mansion, so I bought it out of pity for his meager financial condition.
Ken was wrong. I loved Evermore. Played it constantly. Had sort of a Faustian feel to it that appealed to my literary sense in a way that Perelandra hadn't. At that point in time, I'd considered prog rock for the most part to be a dead art form and for Lewis to be an author from my childhood best left there. I can be unbelievably stupid (and long-winded). Ken tells me that Wobbler will finally hit me one of these days too. We'll see.
I followed Glass Hammer from afar thru the late 90's and early 00's. Chronmetree sidetracked me for months as I respun all my King Crimson and ELP albums looking for the instructions before I figured out it was a joke.
With Lex Rex everything changed. On the first listen, I declared it to be the greatest piece of music I'd ever heard (not counting Palestrina, ha ha). Years after the fact when I finally got around to reading Lewis' The Weight of Glory, I found a section that seemed to describe what I was feeling at that time. I've got this page earmarked now, so it's easy to find:
"The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things - the beauty, the memory of our own past - are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only ... the echo of a tune we have not heard..."
That's what Lex Rex was saying to me. This simple piece of music is a joyful echo of a heavenly sound we can only hope to one day hear. Anyone who believes it to be pretentious does not grasp the profound humility of it. I decid when hearing Lex Rex that I would definitely go see Glass Hammer ... whenever they performed near me.
I continued buying the albums - even going back and filling in many of the ones that I'd missed or skipped over the years. At the same time, I continued to purchased tons of music in tons of other genres accumulating material faster than I could possibly absorb it. Realizing the stupidity of this approach, I took two big breaks for six months and then nine months at a time - not buying (almost) anything. Listening in detail to the stuff I already owned. It was a fruitful experience. One day while the wife and girls were at some kind of girls-only shower or something, I put in the Lex Live DVD. I had watched it before and enjoyed but it had been some time. The studio album was catalogued in my head as best album of 2002, and the band was at the top of my "must see" list - but that was the extent of it. I didn't remember much from the DVD. I watched it again demanding that I ignore the stereo sound and just try to recapture what I had gotten and lost earlier from the studio album. A close listen / viewing was a revelation. I now have a playlist on my computer called GreatestChunkOfMusicEver.m3u (I'm given to hyperbole) that is A Cup of Trembling, Chronos Deliverer, When We Were Young, Heaven from the Lex Live DVD.
The announcement of the Belmont Show came during one of my big breaks from music information / purchasing from the internet. By the time I found out about it was too late to drop everything else for that weekend. I was relieved to find out that it was going to be recorded on DVD. That seemed to sate whatever regret I had for missing the show. I lurked here on the board (without registering) to read comments about the show afterwards, and I realized that I'd missed something special. I decided to clear my calendar to see the next show no matter what it took. What I'd realized is that I'd missed all my past opportunities simply because I hadn't tried hard enough.
I'm glad that I did go. It wasn't easy, but it was worth it. The simple triuth is that there are no guarantees in this business. There's no way to know whether there'll be another Glass Hammer show, though one can hope. There's no way to know if my busy life will just magically happen to be unbusy the day / week of the next show. It isn't likely. There's no way to know what the future holds. The only way to see them is to just go and see them.
I'd like to say that it was a life-changing experience, but really it wasn't. In the grand scheme of things (please score this Howe reference as 1/2 prog point), it doesn't quite measure up to childbirth, marriage, or the day that God revealed His love for me, among other experiences here and there.
In comparison to other concert experiences, this one blew the others away. And it wasn't the big things, really. It was the little things.
There was the relaxed atmosphere of the show, feeling nothing like all the "rock star" self-glorification exercises I've witnessed throughout life.
There was the feeling of being welcome. I introduced myself to just a handful of people. Though this text might appear otherwise, I am a remarkably introverted person often viewed as asocial or antisocial. I have to take beta-blockers just to have the nerve to speak up at my school board meetings. At rock concerts, I've always felt out of place. At secular concerts, I generally feel out of place with the drugs, alcohol, and sexual tension. At Christian concerts, my mere Christianity (Catholicism) often feels somewhat unwelcome in a lot of venues. I felt none of this discomfort at the Tivoli show. I was actually brave enough to introduce myself to both Yeshead and Eric Parker, who was kind enough to sit with me for the show.
I enjoyed the music. I'd never seen a band as relaxed with themselves as these guys. By relaxed, I don't mean either the cocksurity of youth or the cold stoic professionalism of the seasoned players. By relaxed, I mean there was a bunch of people on stage happy to give all the glory to God and worry about nothing else. Minor mistakes were greeted with grins and not grimaces. Everyone appeared to really want to be there.
I had a general idea of what to expect, and it was completely satisfied. I was hoping for material from the last three albums, and that's what we got. Again, the little things here made the show better - seeing Rebecca on her feet and rocking out was a joy. I don't know if was all the teasing she got from the Belmont DVD or if motherhood has relaxed her some. She was having fun. Watching the choir mosh around all crazy to prog rock was wonderful. Carl crumpling up the lyric sheet and throwing it back to his section was funny. The extra time for the strings to do their own thing and for the choir to do their own thing made it clear that there weren't any egos on stage. Seeing Susie upfront for the two songs was great.
The performances were top-notch. It's unfortunate that skilled performers struggle to make a living in music while the suits and the sellouts experience mostly undeserved financial success. Anyway, Carl was excellent. Somehow it seems like he was always in the band. All the singers were in excellent form - which is usually the part of live performances where I'm left least satisfied. Both choirs were awesome. Shreddy rips it up with ease and restraint. Finally seeing the The Knight of the Nord (my new nickname for him which is meant to be in contrast to the evil Knight of the North though their names are phonetically similar) was great - he is truly one of the greatest keyboard wizards of our time. Steve provides the Hammer on stage. And Matt is unbelievably good.
After the show was also quite nice. I took advantage of the opportunity to thank everyone for playing - which is something that I don't normally do. At secular concerts, the aftershows are about parties and hooking up. It's a whole groupie thing. I hate to say it, but most of the CCM shows have been similar to a large degree - getting through the crush of teenage kids to thank someone for playing generally requires more effort and determination than I'm willing to expend. I often leave feeling bad about not being able to thank the performers. The Glass Hammer family was very open and gracious after the show.
So ... if you're still reading at this point - do whatever you can do to go to the next show. It's a wonderful experience.
Thanks again, Glass Hammer folks and volunteers for a great show. I'm looking forward to watching it again on DVD!
And, I look forward to attending more Glass Hammer concerts in the future.