This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
To get a sense of the pretentiousness of the symphonic rock group Trans-Siberian Orchestra, you need only look at the concept behind their 2000 album "Beethoven's Last Night." The group apparently thought so highly of itself that it had the gall to imagine, and perform, what Beethoven's 10th Symphony would have sounded like.
Part of Beethoven's genius was that he knew when to unleash the bombast, such as in his Third or Ninth Symphony and on the other hand, when to craft nuanced, sweetly lovely song suites such as his Sixth Symphony.
But Trans-Siberian Orchestra showed Thursday afternoon in its annual Christmas show at EnergySolutions Arena that it has never learned that over-the-top excess especially over the course of nearly three hours can be exhausting, and enough to sap all of the Christmas spirit out of you.
With no fewer than two-dozen musicians on stage, the mash-up of classical music and late-1980s arena-rock featured an eight-piece orchestra that for the most part was never heard over the guitar and drum artillery. The first half of the show revolved around a melodramatic retread of their warhorse "Christmas Eve and Other Stories" album, consisting of bland original songs and steroid-fueled holiday carols. The second half of the show was largely themeless and seemingly endless.
What's interesting about Trans-Siberian Orchestra is that it is continuously interesting to look at, with fog, smoke, fireworks, fireballs, 13 large video screens, two simulated instances of snowfall, lasers, and one of the most expensive light shows and sets you have ever seen. And the musicians, especially bandleader and lead guitarist Al Pitrelli, are skilled and talented players.
But what derails Trans-Siberian Orchestra are the arrangements and way the songs are played. The show is so choreographed necessitated by the bells and whistles that are synchronized to the music that the soul of the music is overwhelmed. There is no improvisation and no passion in the musicianship, and it ended up being rock-by-numbers.
Every piece of gratuitous showmanship that we had all thought died with the grunge movement in the early 1990s reappeared. Every power chord was punctuated with an exaggerated head bang. Every beat of the drum was accompanied by an aggressive bash of at least one of the 10 cymbals. And the piano was not played with any subtlety or grace; the two keyboard players pounded the keys with misdirected energy. It was a cacophony of a symphony.
The lowlights came during the first half of the show, as the songs were interrupted by a deadly serious baritone narrator, telling a hokey story about an angel who meets a young man in a bar and teaches him the real meaning of Christmas or something like that. The original songs written by the band were either maudlin power ballads or histrionic anthems that felt artificial. Things didn't get better in the second half, marred by the worst Beatles cover I have ever heard: a rendition of "Help!" that was turned into something Bon Jovi would have churned out in 1988.
Throughout the too-lengthy show, I often found myself wondering why everyone onstage was so grave and overdramatic. Christmas spirit even on Nov. 18 is supposed to be about fun. And fun was about the only thing missing from the disappointing spectacle.