If it's almost December, it must be time for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra tour. My son describes them as the "rock electronic Christmas band," and that is as fair a label as any. Many tend to compare TSO to Mannheim Steamroller, the other band that has created a niche for themselves with modern takes on Christmas music, but TSO tends to skew more towards heavy rock than Mannheim Steamroller. I think TSO is similar in many ways to Emerson Lake and Palmer, both with their tendency to cover classical songs as well as their flirtations with pretentiousness in some of their productions. For those unfamiliar with TSO, probably their most famous work of late was "Wizards in Winter," parts of whose music video I think was included in a beer commercial last year.
My son and I got tickets to the concert because we had a couple of TSO albums (we tend to like the instrumentals and think less of the vocals). What we had not realized is that TSO has quite a cult following. Most of the folks around us in the audience had been to 3,4,5 or more of their shows. Many go every year, in a ritual similar to how other folks might go to the Nutcracker every year.
There is no doubt that TSO delivers value to its fans. We saw their second show of the day (!) and they played for a full three hours. Members of the band at different points went all through the audience, down aisles and up stairs while playing some of the final tunes -- far more intimate contact than you will get in most other bands. The key band members all were present after the show in the lobby for a meet and greet with their fans.
OK, so what about the show? Well, I was a little disappointed. To be fair, their leader had a knee injury which forced him to play sitting down, and this tended to reduce some of the band's energy. The music was generally good to very good. The keyboard solos and the high-energy songs at the end were terrific.
The problems were twofold. First, the opening half of the show was stitched together with a narration that was just painful. The poetry was Touched by an Angel meets Dr. Seuss. It was a Night Before Christmas crossed with LA noir. It just did not work for me, and I know it was weak because my 14-year-old son was laughing at it. We both thought we were watching Spinal Tap 2.
The other problem is one that TSO fans will call me out for, but the light show through all the songs was just too much. Don't get me wrong, I have never, ever seen anything to rival the floor show here - 6 trillion lights on the fastest-changing programming I have ever seen, zillions of lasers, flames, more flames, a ten-minute snow storm, band members descending from the sky, band members ascending to the sky, etc. etc. You can get an idea of about 1% of it with this video but any digital camera image of the show is worthless because the ccd can't possibly keep up. Seriously, this video grossly understates the full effect.
The problem was that my eyes could not keep up either. I have walked away from concerts thinking I had a perforated ear drum, but never before thinking I had a burned-out optic nerve. My son said he needed to wear eye-plugs. 90% of the effects would have been OK had it not been for the direct audience facing lights at about 6 trillion candle power they kept insisting on flashing in my face. Anyway, we both are quite experienced with loud, heavy metal concerts and we both walked away with a headache from this one.
Anyway, it was interesting and I am glad I went. And I may even go back next year, but I will be prepared - I am bringing my RayBans next time.