TSO flashy, bombastic, satisfying

Rock ’n’ roll, and particularly heavy metal, is known for being over-the-top. Combine with classical

Rock ’n’ roll, and particularly heavy metal, is known for being over the top. Combine with classical strings and operatic vocals, and you have the makings of a good old-fashioned rock opera. Add Christmas carols, and you’ve got the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

For the sixth year running, the TSO packed the Times Union Center for its two holiday shows, one at 3 p.m. and the other at 7:30 p.m. One might think that after putting on one three-hour show, the band wouldn’t have the energy left to do it again for the evening audiences, but any worries like this were forgotten once the orchestra launched into its first set.

As is tradition with the TSO, Set 1 consisted of the group’s first album, the Christmas rock opera “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” performed in its entirety, while Set 2 focused on the group’s other albums, both holiday and non-seasonal. The air was already hazy with fog before a single note was performed, and the group’s massive lightshow began almost immediately.

Familiar story

Narrated in a rich, dramatic baritone by Bryan Hicks, “Christmas Eve” follows the by now familiar (at least to repeat customers at these shows) story of an angel sent to Earth on Christmas Eve finding the true spirit of the season in the kind act of a bartender. Individual songs and performances took a backseat to the narrative flow and, more important, the dizzying spectacle of lights, lasers and flame. A giant metal trussing system handled lighting and other special effects, at points even carrying band members up over the stage.

Best here were “Prince of Peace,” featuring an extremely strong vocal performance from Jay Pierce, and “A Mad Russian’s Christmas,” which gave guitarist Chris Caffery in particular ample room to shine. But as is the case with such large productions, the performances, while good, seemed a bit canned and over-rehearsed. And the narration, coupled with the music’s tendency to sound quite similar after a while, dragged down the pace a bit as well.

The band as a whole fared much better during its second set, which began with a fierce reading of “Wizards of Winter.” Without a narrator weighing the group down, the band was free to stretch a bit, introducing new elements to its sound on “Prelude to Madness.”

“Last Illusion/Beethoven’s 9th Symphony” featured stellar playing from the guitars, and pyrotechnics so hot they could be felt from the back of the audience (not to mention more flames in the back, too). With all the ripping guitars and pounding drums, it was difficult at times to make out the string arrangements, performed by members of the Albany Symphony Orchestra. But the guitars made a nice focus, shining yet again on new material from the yet-to-be-released “Night Castle.”

Night to remember

So yes, it was bombastic and overblown, but for the crowds of all ages who packed the Times Union, it was a night they’ll remember fondly (with ringing ears and slightly blinded eyes).

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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