TSO do their thing at DCU

A review of Trans Siberian Orchestra at the DCU Center on December 11

, Staff Writer

Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s annual Christmastime tour has been a staple of the American holiday scene for the past ten years, 2008 marking their tenth year as a band. This is a band that is famous for the spectacles they call shows to the point that I don’t think many people really listen to their studio albums simply because the live experience is incomparably better; they are a performance piece first and a studio band second, and the crowd who filled the DCU Center in Worcester Thursday night seemed to agree. For three hours those who were brave enough to find their way through the horrible weather were treated to every single rock cliché thrown onto one humongous stage, and the show heralds in the Christmas season in a way that not even A Charlie Brown Christmas can.

Trans Siberian Orchestra (TSO) shows usually follow a similar progression from one year to the next: the first set is the telling of a Noel story that is loosely tied to the music performed, entirely metalized Christmas songs, while the second set expands to more general classical music (also metallic). The story, narrated in Hallmark quartets by Bryan Hicks, a bald man in a ratty tuxedo, was about a drunken man in a bar on Christmas Eve, an angel searching the world for the true meaning of Christmas, and a girl trying to make her way home for the holiday. Of course, the story is barely coherent, serving more as bookends in between rocking out than any real significant narrative medium. Hicks’ delivery was overly dramatic as he delivered his lines accompanied by a piano refrain that would become very familiar before the evening was through, but with a show like this you have to embrace the cheese thoroughly or you risk not getting the full experience out of it. Everyone has a soft spot for Christmas stories, so it’s easy to forgive the downtime, plus the lows only served to accentuate the highs, which came in abundance.

As snow began to fall to Hicks’ narration, the band stood poised, and then immediately burst into "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24", a medley of "Carol of the Bells" and "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen". Really, the whole performance was like watching a non-stop power ballad – ripping guitar solos dropped like they were penny candy as the choir provided well-timed aahs, all the while drummer Jeff Plate, a long-haired guy in a ratty tuxedo, going nuts behind an absolutely humongous kit (complete with swirling brass-colored things on either side that didn’t actually seem to produce any sound). String Director and Solo Violinist Anna Phoebe, a beautiful woman in a black dress and power boots, ran back and forth across the stage, regaling one side with her incredibly intense playing before dashing over to the other side to do the same. The guitarists, fellows with long hair in ratty tuxedos, would do the same, the whole while everyone interacting with each other as they saw fit. Phoebe and second-chair "Rowdy" Roddy Chung would play a violin lick and then toss their bows to one another. Alex Skolnick, decked in long hair and a ratty tuxedo, and Chris Caffery, distinguished by his long hair and ratty tuxedo, swayed back and forth in unison most of the evening.

Stars glittered against a black tarp in the back while the serpent-like light fixture contorted itself, rising and falling as the mood dictated. There was, of course, a laser show that just knocked everyone’s socks off, red and green colors shooting out and flashing every which way. At one point the drunk man, one with flowing locks and a disheveled tuxedo, sung a quiet acoustic song, "Old City Bar", which admittedly went on for a little while too long, but was nonetheless well performed.

After the first set band introductions came, which needless to say lasted a little while. The guitarist came on toting a Patriots jersey, mentioning that it was a bummer that Tom Brady went down for the season, but that it was okay because we would soon have the Red Sox, removing the Pats jersey to reveal a Red Sox one. And that we could currently enjoy, he said, the success of our basketball team, showing some good old green underneath his Sox jersey. There was no intermission, and they jumped right back into the thick of things with "Wizards In Winter", one of their well-known songs that gets a fair amount of playtime on the radio around this time of year. They busted out the real pyrotechnics for the second set, fires shooting up all over the stage, changing colors from blue to red to orange.

One of the benefits of seeing the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is that you get to totally get to geek out on Classical music while enjoying the bombast of rock and roll. A classically-trained vocalist, a beautiful woman in a black dress, performed a nifty rendition of a piece from The Magic Flute. Another enjoyable piece was "Flight Of The Bumblebee", which had Anna Phoebe and Roddy Chung burning up their violins. For "O Fortuna" the choir lined up on stage and was conducted through the piece. The serious fire came during a song that bookended the Confutatis movement of Mozart’s requiem with the immediately-recognizable opening passage of Beethoven’s 5th. One pleasant surprise was seeing the band perform a rendition of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody #2, which had keyboardist Robert Kinkel playing a faithful though slightly simplified version on his piano while the rest of the group exploded around him.

For the finale, an encore of "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24", Caffery and Phoebe dashed to the back of the auditorium and stood on a small square rafter construction that shot out steam from underneath it and lifted the performers into the air like a rocketship. They would run back to the main stage, high-fiving those within reach, and, with lights flashing, smoke billowing and flames shooting, the concert reached its conclusion.

The evening proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable one for those in attendance, a hard injection of rock-based yuletide joy. While their studio efforts don’t do nearly well enough to convey the live experience, that’s only because Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s performance is like the circus for music lovers. There was even a double-necked guitar at one point. It’s understandable why people go to see this group perform year after year, and we hope they will be able to keep the tradition going for many years. Their Christmas performance is something all good Christians should attend, a reaffirmation of the warm fuzzy feelings the holiday brings bundled in a huge rock and roll package.

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