josh hadley | shadows of pop culture | dec. 2018
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra has been a Christmas staple going on 20 years now. What the Rocky Horror Picture Show songs are to Halloween, Trans-Siberian Orchestra songs are when the snow begins to fall. Even if you don't know the band by name you know the music: it's the heavy metal Christmas music mixed into the blandness of Christmas radio play.
TSO is an island of intense contemplation within the sea of mind-numbing saccharine Christmas music we're subjected to every holiday season. A brilliant mix of classical styling and instruments seamlessly blended with the hardedge of rock guitars, booming bass and thundering drums, TSO is more than just a show. These disparate elements should not socialize as well as they do but TSO makes it work. TSO is arena rock at its most commercial and was once described by The Washington Post as "Pink Floyd meets Yes and The Who at Radio City Music Hall."
A TSO show is something that must be experienced live; even seeing the videos online cannot do the show justice. There are intense laser shows, cinematics, coordinated numbers, "stunts," a storyline, and even real-time effects (dropping real snow on the audience) alongside the sonic barrage of the music.
TSO was recently in Green Bay with their "Ghosts of Xmas Eve" show (in fact it was the opening night of the tour right here in Green Bay) and it was ominously intense and heartfelt. The first half of the show tells a story of peace and coming to terms with past mistakes. The second half of the show is dedicated to playing all the old favorites along with songs from the new album.
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra was formed in the early 1990s by ex-members of the 80s heavy metal band Savatage ("Hall of the Mountain King" being their biggest hit) and now features over 40 band members, singers and onstage guests (not to mention the hundreds of behind the scenes personnel). TSO has become a certifiable brand unto itself.
Having released some 10 plus albums over the years and performing around the world (not to mention the incessant radio play) TSO is also a philanthropic organization, donating $1 from every ticket sale to a charity in each and every city they visit and they sell quite a few tickets. In Green Bay they performed two shows over one night, packing both shows. The show this year was so sold out that there were still a good 300 people standing outside in line in the freezing cold when the performance began (I was among those who missed the opening song due to long lines). The aforementioned line wrapped around the block of the Resch Center and there was nary a parking spot to be found for miles — a testament to just how many people wanted to see TSO.
TSO is a true "rock opera" with the passion and zealotry required to give the audience the best entertainment possible and they do not skimp in the least. They also change up the playlist regularly; if you saw them two years ago, it is not the same show this time. Sure they will play some of the same staples each season ("Christmas Eve Sarajevo" or "Winter Wizards" for instance) but within a mixture of new songs and an evolving story. The musical cast is also ever-changing with new artists swapped in and out and just about every single performer is given a chance to shine with a solo or a specific song requiring their specific skills.
-banner photo by Mark Weiss
A fiercely confrontational and arrogant critic whose stubborn nature makes him immanently readable and equally angering, Josh Hadley is a writer for magazines such as Hustler, Fangoria, Paracinema, Shadowland, Grindhouse Purgatory and Cashers du Cinemart, as well as a radio host on Jackalope Radio. Find more from him at 1201beyond.com, a website that only the most anti-social personalities would engage.