For fans of old-school arena rock, the Holiday season isn’t just about shopping, baking, and wrapping – it’s about making your way to Cleveland, regardless of the weather, for the annual appearance of the mighty Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
For many of us it has become a tradition but every year there are more than a few who get to witness the spectacle for the first time but regardless of your pedigree – the band never fails to leave all in attendance in awe – and this year’s show would be no exception.
Over the years the band has become the premier presenter of multimedia theatrical performance – it’s more than lights, lasers, and flame throwers – although there are certainly plenty of all those things – it’s about taking the audience on a journey and weaving a tapestry of music and performance that makes you forget you’re sitting with 20,000 other souls until you hear them roar around you when the song ends.
On Friday, Dec. 22nd the band rolled into town for two performances, one at 3 PM and the other at 7:30. I attended the early show. I went into it thinking “They’ll probably rush through this early show since they have to clear this joint out and refill it again a few hours later.” but – I couldn’t have been more incorrect. The show started about 15 minutes late and they played well over two hours.
The band breaks the show into two segments – the first half of the evening is a live recounting of their classic album, and PBS special THE GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS EVE.
After a short trio of introductory songs – a live narrator – a wonderful performance by Bryan Hicks – walks onto the stage and as the now classic PBS special plays on the giant screens on the sides of the stage, leads us through the story of the young runaway who happens upon an abandoned theater full of holiday magic. I told my wife after watching the performance this year that future generations will look at this story the way we look at Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL – it holds that same magic and special message of redemption and hope. While great on TV, or as a recording – you haven’t experienced the true power of the tale till you’ve seen it live.
This segment features several stand-out moments – Joel Hoekstra rips out a rendition of O HOLY NIGHT that is breathtaking – I challenge anyone to listen and not get goosebumps – an amazing guitarist and performer whose playing and stage presence demands your attention. It’s also during this segment that we witness CHRISTMAS EVE SARAJEVO, arguably the band’s most recognizable track – but without question the track that brought the band to the forefront of fans’ attention – at least here in Cleveland. The lights, pyro, lasers, and smoke go full force doing this one – it’s beyond description but suffice it to say – once you’ve seen it, you will never forget it.
Leading the festivities for the evening is the guitarist and de facto ring leader Chris Caffery whose guitar prowess is equal to his ability to stir and interact with the crowd. Running from side to side, jumping, thrashing, and just all around performing the hell out of every note he picks. Matching his energy note for note is violinist Roddy Chong who is a maniac (I mean that in the best way possible) and a never-ending blur of energy for the entire set.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing work of bassist Tony Dickinson and drummer Jeff Plate. Keyboard duties are expertly handled by Derek Wieland and Mee Eun Kim. Collectively – they are hands down one of the most polished, tight, and impressive sets of metal musicians touring today.
And that’s just the instrumental end of things – vocally the troupe has a group of eight (I think) amazing vocal talents. Try as I might – I just couldn’t write all the names down as they did the introductions- the vocalists changed from song to song but each one was outstanding – not just good – outstanding.
When THE GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS EVE wraps up, and the narrator tips his hat and heads out the theater door we rush headlong into the second half of the show – structured to further show off the power of the assembled talent.
Throughout the entire set the lights, pyro, and lasers are a constant treat for the eyes, and combined with the world-class musicianship – it is a complete sensory overload in all the right ways. This year a giant snow globe was added during QUEEN OF THE WINTER NIGHT adding a little extra spark to an already glimmering show.
The show-stopper though was the finale of Requiem (The Fifth) which segues into a reprise of CHRISTMAS EVE SARAJEVO and the stage literally explodes with fireworks, flames, more lasers, more lights, more fog – it’s complete mayhem that leaves you smiling, screaming, and begging for more.
As is tradition – Cleveland does get a little more – we get an encore of CLEVELAND ROCKS – and rock we do.
Man – I’m exhausted just recounting the evening to you – it really is one of the best live shows touring and never fails to impress – Trans-Siberian Orchestra is more than just a band – it’s part of the Holiday season and their impact and message should not be overlooked or missed.