The first hour-plus portion was threaded with a Christmas narrative from TSO’S 1996 album “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” about a lonely soul whose perspective on the holiday changes after meeting a wise old man in a bar on Christmas Eve. The arrangements interspersed originals with traditional carols such as “Silent Night” and “O’ Come All Ye Faithful” as well as music from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker,” which served as a highlight. An original R&B ballad belted by Erica Jerry morphed into “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” While the gentle violins from “The Nutcracker Suite” later tiptoed into a heavy, bounding version which featured quick guitar licks that could’ve been lifted from a number of hard rock classics.
While the classical bent of the show made it more of a quiet sit-down affair without a steady stream of people heading for the bar, there was plenty arena rock grandeur. The crowd wooed and whistled at guitarist Joel Hoekstra, a lanky Sebastian Bach-looking player with long blonde waves, as he shredded on his Les Paul at the foot of the stage.
For many Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s concerts are a holiday tradition. The audience certainly had its favorite performers in band leader/guitarist Chris Caffery (who wore a Bobcats’ jersey with his name on it during the break) and vocalist James Lewis whose lead on songs like “Ornament” added a touch of gruff biker-cool. The crowd also seemed familiar with vocalist Ronny Munroe who appeared as a costumed homeless man with the voice of a European Neil Diamond during “Old City Bar.”
While the diverse cast of lead vocalists, animated violinist Roddy Chong (who led a 7-piece violin section made up of local musicians), and narration from Bryan Hicks made for plenty going on, the production was actually the real star. At one point tiny bubbles fell slowly creating realistic falling snow that evaporated as it landed on the crowd.
The light rig and drum kit were massive. Part of the light rig extended halfway into the audience, featured screens that hovered over the floor seats, and lowered to form a catwalk over the crowd where the musicians and dancer/singers could perform from platforms.
The production only escalated after the holiday portion of the show when the band performed songs from its 2009 double album “Night Castle” and 2000’s “Beethoven’s Last Night.”
“You want to see this stage come alive?” asked Caffery between sets. Alive meant transforming the backdrop, screens, and light rig into a mechanical fire breathing dragon. While that sounds preposterous, it was actually very cool and well done, with eyes and teeth appearing on screens as the three light rigs opened and closed while fire shot from the dragon’s “mouth.” If Grammy’s were given for production this seems like a clear winner.
The female singers from the choir formed a dance team for the second half as well. The women used their hair as another limb, swinging it back and forth in whiplash-inducing sync. Considering the hair-dancing and headbanging a more fitting name might be Tran-Sibhairian Orchestra.
Although there wasn’t anything as impressive as the dragon, the onslaught or pyro and fireworks continued through “Beethoven’s 5th” and a finale that wound its way back to the holiday theme with the mashup of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Carol of the Bells" - signature TSO.
The concert is over-the-top from beginning to end, cheesy and sort of delightfully self-aware of that factor. But I found at some point even those who are apprehensive (like myself) to the general ridiculousness of combining such equally grand yet seemingly disparate elements in a non-traditional holiday show eventually succumb. Within the context of the show (at least by the third or fourth song), it no longer seems so ridiculous.