Ever go to a show and a celebration breaks out? If you spent one particular Saturday night in June with The Thrillhammers, you have now.
A concert? A swansong? A tribute? Yeah, all of those words could work. None of them alone really quite cover “Hammer In Our Hearts: A Tribute To Chris Chandler” though. With that thought in mind, I’m going to dispense with my usual post-show review format here, I’d really rather just talk about the experience. I mean, how do you “review” a family reunion?
That was really my first take on the night, the deep connections between the audience and the performers. A devoted smoker like me can pick up pieces of a lot of conversations while nicotine loading and watching the rain come down before the show. This person went to high school with that member, and those two went to school with another fan’s sister, and we used to shop in this center every week, and I know his mama from church, and … well, maybe you get the idea. Everybody may not have known everybody but you probably didn’t have more than two degrees of separation among hardly anybody. I may well have been among the least “connected” people on the property and even I saw over a half-dozen folks I hadn’t seen in three decades.
Sadly, there’s really no getting around the circumstances that set the event in motion. The tribute aspect of the evening honored the late Chris Chandler, whose death last year after a battle with cancer shook his family, his friends, his community, and his fans. Proceeds after expenses from the show will go toward the development of a memorial fund that will direct itself toward helping with some of the guitarist’s favorite causes. His wife Pam, a gracious and beloved presence throughout the night, spoke of her husband’s concern for youth and his love of the arts and I’m confident that the fund will help continue his legacy under her stewardship.
Tributes in another form were in evidence throughout the night. Special guests making their way on stage for a song or two were consistently woven into the entire evening. I won’t try to name them all, purely out of fear of omitting a name inadvertently and I’m very uncomfortable even risking such an unintended slight. To a person the contributions were solid and appropriate. Among the more memorable moments were guests’ participation in a couple of highlights of the night, the chill-inducing “Seven Bridges Road” and the downright magical rendition of a Pink Floyd classic.
I do want to single out one “guest” performance of sorts, that of Billy Trippe handling lead guitar chores for most of the night. Now I’ve probably known him since before he started shaving his face, much less his head, so it’s not like I don’t have some idea of who he is or what he can do. That said, his performance in a difficult role truly impressed me as one of the most professional things I’ve ever seen on a stage. I’m not generally what you’d call good at blowing sunshine up anybody’s skirt so believe me when I say that you can pick any musical name you want — and I’ve been lucky enough to see some of the biggest and best of my lifetime — none has ever earned more respect from me than he captured here.
I also want to … well, can you “collectively” single out people? I’m not quite sure how that phrase works but I’ll give it a go here. The backing vocal contingent and the keyboard contributions from the side of the stage were one of those things that caught my attention throughout the night. Again, I’m avoiding naming everyone individually because I’d surely screw up at least once but I was really conscious of the amount of effort that was taking place just outside the spotlight. The work added to the performance and warrants a mention here, however awkwardly I manage to do it.
And then there’s those other three guys.
What’n the hell do you say about the culmination of three decades? About a marathon performance that explored two albums, a considerable amount of the width and breadth of their musical influences, about an ability to span genres and defy precise labels? About talent, about dedication, about determination? About heart, courage, conviction? About passion … or about love?
I never know exactly what’s going to really go home with me from a show. Some nights it’s a t-shirt and ticket stub. Once in a blue moon it’s checkmark on the bucket list. Most nights, I guess, it’s a few standout moments that I just hope manage stay on deposit in the memory bank. Sometimes though it takes me a little while to figure out how to describe it. I’m still not sure I have it exactly right but I’m gonna take a crack at it.
Greg, Shannon, Wayne … you brought it.
Individually and collectively. You lugged it allllll up there on stage and then you did that thing. That thing that Bob Seger described as “every ounce of energy, you try to give away”. The passion for the music, the love for one another — the three AND the four — the desire to share all of that with every willing ear. You gave it all.
“Thank you” seems pretty inadequate in response but hopefully sincerity can make good on the simplicity.
In closing, just one other thought, one I shared with some of the members afterwards. With the effort and emotion of the evening, I imagine it’s kind of hard to really step back and take everything in. My hope for you all is that, at some point, you do allow yourselves a moment to appreciate just how well this went, how all of it came together, how it simply … worked. Your audience most assuredly knows.
You done good boys. You done REAL good.