Rituals, traditions, and Trans-Siberian Orchestra

by MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

The Christmas holiday season is beloved for its many traditions– some personal, some shared.

For instance, some will enjoy the same Christmas Eve ritual, such as a midnight mass and hot cocoa upon the arrival home. Some will wait for Santa by watching their favorite holiday specials such as “It’s A Wonderful Life,” “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer,” and “A Christmas Story.”

Rock concerts, in the post-Kiss arena show era, also have their traditions and rituals.

The performances are typically larger than life, with shock-and-awe bright lights, flames shooting from the stage, and a choreographed fist pumping dance with guitars, basses, and mike stands.

Typically, the two worlds do not cross.

But when they do, you have Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

TSO takes the best of both worlds—Christmas and hard, progressive rock – and melds them together in a way that left most of the audience at the Mohegan Sun Arena on the afternoon of Nov. 25 picking up their jaws from the floor.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra, after 20 years, has become a holiday tradition unto itself. Year after year, TSO—in its east and west incarnations­ hits the road around the winter holiday season. Subsequently, many of their fans make a point of coming out year after year to hear feel their heart strings pulled and their pulses pumping when TSO performs its classic, “The Ghosts of Christmas Past” and a myriad of deeper cuts and fan favorites from two decades plus of recording.

Just as much a tradition as a tour each year is TSO’s determination to outdo the previous tour’s production values.

I saw last year’s tour. I can sincerely say they pushed the pyrotechnic envelope even farther this year.

It’s hard to describe with words what happened throughout the show. But, suffice it to say, that musicians rose high above the stage on platforms; the flames were bright enough and hot enough to warm up those of us in the floor seats; the phalanx of lasers lit up the room like a battle between Storm Troopers and the Rebel Alliance; the video screen behind the musicians took you into a variety of different worlds worthy of an IMAX cinema; and the computer guided lights all around the stage looked as if a battalion of UFOs had just landed.

The production, however, is just part of the TSO experience. If the Trans-Siberian Orchestra was just about demonstrating the abilities of the mechanical side of entertainment, fans might just as well head off to a stage equipment trade show.

The music created by the late Paul O’Neill is key to enjoying the TSO experience. There’s a clever mix of metal and classical music in his compositions and arrangements— whether O’Neill was tackling holiday chestnuts such as “The Nutcracker” ballet in “A Mad Russian’s Christmas” or reworking the 19th century gem by William Chatterton Dix’s “What Child is this.” Originals, such as “Tracers” and “Ghosts of Christmas Eve” demonstrated O’Neill also learned his lessons well with the classic.

Although they typically take a backseat to “the show,” the musical cast of Trans-Siberian Orchestra is also key to bringing O’Neill’s music to life. Those on stage Nov. 25 were all superb musicians who were willing to check their ego at the door and let the spotlight fall where it belonged, the vision of the late O’Neill and his ablity to bring joy to the fans.

The most notable members of the TSO band were long-time guitarists Chris Caffery and Joel Hoekstra. Their ax-slinging gave the show the right amount of metallic zing as they ably maneuvered through the complex arrangements.

Roddy Chong on electric violin also was a captivating showman as he dove, swung, danced and swooped with his electric instrument either on a platform above the stage or on a crane even higher above the arena floor. His instrument also helped drive the classical elements of the arrangements.

During the Mohegan Sun Arena show, Caffery noted how Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s productions have grown over the years–and he thanked the fans for their love during that time.

And that mutual love between band and fans is at the heart of why Trans-Siberian Orchestra has become a holiday tradition.

I give the Nov. 25 afternoon performance of Trans-Siberian Orchestra at the Mohegan Sun Arena, three and a half out of four stars.