REVIEW: Trans-Siberian Orchestra brings ‘Ghosts of Christmas Eve’ to rock fans

Trans-Siberian Orchestra are in the middle of their annual winter tour, which continues through Dec. 30. Photo courtesy of Jason McEachern.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra are in the middle of their annual winter tour, which continues through Dec. 30. Photo courtesy of Jason McEachern.

NEWARK, N.Y. — Trans-Siberian Orchestra have become so engrained in the holiday season over the last few years that fans can expect to see their concert tour come to town almost as faithfully as that bearded man in the red suit. Every year, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, the rock ‘n’ roll collective fill arenas with adoring fans waiting to listen to their unique mashup of classical music and amplified rock music.

TSO could almost be considered a nostalgia act, except their shows pulsate with energy and showmanship. At a recent matinee concert at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., the band, which features guitarists, a violinist, percussionist, keyboardist, chorus and orchestra, lit up the stage (literally) and blasted their way through nearly two-and-a-half hours of rocking Christmas tunes.

The first half of the show featured a retelling of Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s The Ghosts of Christmas Eve. Although the retelling was short on narrative and heavy on acoustical dominance, the songs worked nicely, offering a mixture of biting guitar riffs and less head-banging ballads. The story, which is broadcast on a giant screen behind the orchestra, follows a young runaway who breaks into a vaudeville theater and experiences the many ghostly haunts of the holiday season, according to press notes. A storyteller brings the tale to life in a Charles-Dickens-inspired narration.

Guitars rule at any Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert. Photo courts of Jason McEachern.
Guitars rule at any Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert. Photo courts of Jason McEachern.

Among the first-half selections were “Christmas Canon,” “O’ Come All Ye Faithful” and the crowd-pleasing hit, “Christmas Eve Sarajevo 12/24.” The orchestra performed on an elevated platform, providing the songs their musical backbones. On the lower stage was the keyboardist, a violinist and a bevy of guitarists. However, at TSO concerts, the stage usually extends into the audience. The musicians run around, trying to elicit applause and cheers, and sometimes this enthusiasm takes them into the aisles of the arena.

Accompanying the musicians is a laser-light show that almost matches the energy emanating from the stage. At times, audience members will feel like they are in the middle of a virtual-reality video game thanks to the wild shapes and dizzying effects the lighting designers are able to achieve. Smoke machines are aplenty, a large pyramid spins around and every bit of the stage seems outfitted with pyrotechnics. This is not your grandmother’s Christmas show.

Laser lights produce a variety of angles at a recent Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert. Photo courtesy of Jason McEachern.
Laser lights produce a variety of angles at a recent Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert. Photo courtesy of Jason McEachern.

The singers were in fine form at the Newark, N.J., concert. They brought several Christmas and TSO classics to life with booming voices that drove across the crowd with power. At times, the presentation of the tunes became over stylized and cliche. Sometimes, it must be admitted, the combination of Christmas songs and head-banging doesn’t work seamlessly. However, most of the packed crowd seemed to welcome the unusual musical mixture on display.

The sound designers were spot on with their Herculean effort to capture the amplification. At times, it was nearly impossible to distinguish the violin from the guitars, but the voices of the singers were never drowned out, which is a common staple of rock shows.

Other selections that had the crowd nodding along included “Wizards in Winter,” a medley from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker and “Christmas Nights in Blue.” There was no intermission, and the songs came fast and furious, one right after another. A few songs were also played off the orchestra’s newest album, Letters from the Labyrinth, the first full-length album in seven years from the band.

After two decades of rock dominance, with several hits songs and much ticket-buying success, it’s safe to welcome Trans-Siberian Orchestra into the pantheon of Christmas-themed events. Move over Rockettes, Buddy the Elf, Ebenezer Scrooge and Clark W. Griswold, and make room for TSO in this jam-packed holiday season.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Trans-Siberian Orchestra continues its winter tour through Dec. 30. They will soon play Atlanta; Providence, R.I.; Boston; Little Rock, Ark.; and Hershey, Pa., among other cities. Click here for more information on tickets.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications.

E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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