Spectacles don’t get much bigger or more bombastic than a Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas show.
At the first of two concerts Saturday at Chesapeake Energy Arena, more than 15,000 fans got their holidays — as well as eardrums and eyeballs — ringing with headbanging hard rock, a nonstop light show, multihued lasers, fiery pyrotechnics, swirling smoke effects and more.
The matinee show opened with simulated snowfall that had my 6-year-old son and 2 ½-year-old daughter staring in wide-eyed wonder as they tried to grasp the floating flakes and closed with a festive fireworks display that sent showers of golden sparks arching high above the massive stage.
For my family — my husband and 18-year-old son also took in the all-ages show — it was our first experience with the popular touring act. While some moments were more dazzling than others, the concert conjured up enough special effects wizardry, scorching guitar solos and soaring strings to make our afternoon merry and bright.
Instead of retelling “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” the rock opera based on the band’s 1996 debut album, Trans-Siberian Orchestra this season is making “The Lost Christmas Eve” the centerpiece of its yuletide tour, which is so successful it boasts two casts simultaneously crisscrossing the country.
The first two-thirds of the concert is devoted to the touching but overly long rock opera, introduced in 2004 with the third LP of the band’s Christmas trilogy. With his deep, warm voice, narrator Phillip Brandon guided the audience through the tale of an angel dispatched to New York City, where the heavenly being encounters a wealthy banker who has become a modern-day Ebenezer Scrooge. Under the angel’s watchful eye, the misanthrope joyfully reunites with the baby boy he abandoned four decades ago.
As promised, Trans-Siberian Orchestra packs plenty of vocal power: Dustin Brayley, Nathan James and former Journey man Jeff Scott Soto gave great performances, but Chloe Lowery and her bevy of female backup singers stole the show with their beautiful belting of the TSO favorite “Christmas Canon Rock.”
Ably backed by an Oklahoma City string section, the musicians didn’t give up the spotlight easily, though. Pianists Jane Mangini and Vitalij Kuprij somehow managed to keep “Wish Liszt (Toy Shop Madness)” rocking along even as they dashed back and forth switching keyboards. Original TSO member Al Pitrelli and fellow guitarist Angus Clark engaged in a friendly but furious competition from the amped-up opener “Faith Noel,” although violinist Asha Mevlana managed to one-up them more than once, especially on the sizzling instrumental “Wizards in Winter.”
Like an overloaded holiday table, “The Lost Christmas Eve” just proved too much of a good thing, the storytelling bloated with too many power ballads, meandering musical interludes and lofty rhyming from the narrator. But the band introductions provided a bit of a palate cleanser, and when Pitrelli asked “Are you ready for a rock show?,” the audience was indeed.
Although less emotionally attuned to the season, the last third of the 2 ½-hour show was actually more electrifying, as the band blasted through hits like “The Mountain,” its rendition of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” its orchestral-metal take on “Requiem,” from the TSO album “Beethoven’s Last Night” and its majestic holiday favorites “This Christmas Day” and “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24).”
— Brandy McDonnell