Trans-Siberian Orchestra puts the metal in Christmas

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      At the Pacific Coliseum on Friday, November 20

      When it comes to putting on symphonic-metal Christmas concerts, Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a pretty tough act to beat. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the members of TSO put on the best symphonic-metal Christmas concerts in the world. And so they should. They’ve had quite a bit of practice.

      Every year since 2000, the New York–based ensemble splits up into two sizable touring groups (TSO East and TSO West). That way, it can cover more turf during the short-lived holiday season. And in Vancouver, TSO West treated the half-full Pacific Coliseum to nearly three hours of its special brand of heavy-metal Christmas carolling. Yes, you read that right—three looooooong hours.

      To be fair, the first half of the concert went by fairly fast, as it was more of a rock opera. Between songs, narrator Tony Gaynor offered spoken-word excerpts from the group’s 1996 album, Christmas Eve and Other Stories. From what I gathered, Gaynor (who had the kind of intensely dramatic delivery usually reserved for movie-trailer voice-overs), was telling the story of an angel sent down to Earth to save the soul of some bah-humbug bartender.

      At one point in the tale, there was talk of snow and, just like our very own Christmas miracle last year, snow began to fall from the Pacific Coliseum heavens. Magic. Pure magic.

      And seemingly out of nowhere, a singer came on-stage and blessed us with a never-ending maudlin ballad. As part of the act, he was dressed like a homeless person. Not the kind you ever actually see living on the streets, mind you, but rather the kind you only see in church plays. That said, he did manage to fool some people with his costume. Apparently, he was outside asking for spare change as people filed into the venue. But don’t worry—if you gave your money to this down-and-outer impostor, according to the band’s MC-vocalist Tommy Farese, it’s all going to a children’s charity.

      Musically, the highlight of the night was “A Mad Russian’s Christmas”, a head-banging take on Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. Here, we had a handful of longhaired guitarists in evening dress riffing on “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and doing synchronized windmills. Meanwhile, two duelling violinists were performing some sort of good-natured bowing throw-down. It was a lively and theatrical spectacle—complete with an ’80s-style laser light show—but this was a conservative crowd. The only people I saw make any kind of dance move or even nod their heads in acknowledgment of the music were a couple a few rows in front of me. They were dancing up a storm and busting out all their best air-guitar moves. But to be honest, I couldn’t tell if they were in on the joke or totally insane.

      After the Christmas Eve and Other Stories segment, Farese came out and introduced the band. And with that, TSO busted out another hour of music, which seemed a tad on the redundant side. I mean, at the risk of sounding like Scrooge, I don’t think we needed a reprise of the group’s merry mashup “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24”. But maybe that’s just me.

      I will say this, though: it was without a doubt the best three-hour symphonic-metal Christmas concert I’ve ever seen.