T.S.O.: Way Over the Top

Trans-Siberian Orchestra, publicity photo

Trans-Siberian Orchestra, publicity photo

T.S.O. is the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. WC attended his first T.S.O. concert the other night. And it’s going to be tough to describe. A show that’s so far over the top that you can’t even see the top any more.

The first third of the show was Christmas music. Christmas music as it might have been performed by Jimi Hendrix on bad acid. With lasers. Trust WC when he says that if you heard T.S.O.’s version of “Carole of the Bells” you’d not likely ever forget it.

The second third of the show was a truly touching Christmas story, with a narrator, but mostly told in song. Special props to Russell Allen, as the bar patron at the City Bar who absolutely nailed the magical scene. An angel’s prayer, indeed.

The last third was progressive rock, with lights, lasers, a couple dozen flamethrowers, a big Van de Graff Generator and other features WC probably missed in the excitement. When there’s mammoth Van de Graff generator discharging fifteen feet from your nose you are, by definition, distracted.

You can’t make this stuff up. There were also ballads, torch songs, songs with torches, modern dance and enough guitar feedback to power a small town for a week.

It was immense fun, even if WC was reduced to helpless giggles a couple of times at the sheer overtopped extravagance of the thing.

Musically, it didn’t always make sense. There were fragments of Mozart’s Requiem and Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, parts of the Nutcracker (with armies of marching toy soldiers on the screen behind the band), “Night on Bald Mountain” (with flying dragons), some introductory parts of songs that never actually got to the tune and still more stuff WC missed while trying to figure out what the oversized images like the hundreds of exploding televisions behind the band had to do with what was happening on stage.

T.S.O. is also a huge band: at least five guitarists, a bassist, a violinist, two keyboardists, an extremely impressive drummer, at least ten singers and a chamber orchestra borrowed from the Idaho Symphony. WC counted fourteen computer screens running the nine hanging light rigs, dozens of dangling lights, 15 or so on-stage screens and dozens, maybe hundred of lasers. And the flamethrowers. And – yes, really – the Van de Graff generator. Art Pitrelli, the music director of T.S.O., told the crowd it took eight and half hours to set up the equipment. WC is only surprised it didn’t take longer. Heck, WC is surprised the Boise City Fire Marshall didn’t take longer than that to approve the pyrotechnics.

In WC’s long rock concert experience, spectacle is usually cover for fading or non-existent skills and talent. Think KISS, for example. But the talent in T.S.O. is uniformly high and in the case of folks like guitarist Angus Clark, drummer Blas Elias and vocalist Chloe Lowery, truly outstanding.

It turns out T.S.O. has been around some 25 years, sold millions of records and released platinum and double platinum albums. Yet WC had never heard of them until a couple of years ago. Getting old, WC supposes.

Would WC see them again? You bet. After the tinnitus resolves.