As if they planned their performance down to even the weather, Trans-Siberian Orchestra arrived in Grand Rapids as soft blankets of snow covered the city sidewalks and trees lining the way to Van Andel Arena.
TSO has entered its 21st consecutive year of touring and cornered the Christmas Metal market. Perhaps such a niche was once so small that it seems almost reasonable that such an achievement would appear unimpressive. However, two decades and over 17 million tickets later, TSO proves that carving out their own space in the saturated Christmas scene is as much a result of finding a unique presentation to grab hold as it is their quest to present a truly remarkable show in its own right.
Part rock opera and part classic metal concert, TSO provides a show that appeals to all ages and manages to even engage audiences one might not expect to entertain the idea of attending a metal spectacle of screaming guitars, howling vocals and a laser-light show that is second to none.
The audience in attendance runs the gamut from 5 to 85 and everything in between. You might even believe you are arriving for a classical ballet production of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker with gentle acoustic guitar, piano and Christmas bells laying the soundtrack for packed rows filing to their seats.
You might believe that notion correct as a narrator arrives on stage to set the story outlining the first half of the show and laying the bedrock of a few unique tunes brought to the stage this year. A man in a long overcoat and scarf approaches the microphone with a deep barreling voice made even silkier by the gentle neon glow lighting his performance as the stage transforms into the set of “The Old City Bar.”
What follows is a show that manages to pull off the improbable: a two and a half hour rock show without an opening act, intermission or pause that isn’t planned or efficient in creating an experience as much as a concert.
The show ranges stylistically between traditional Christmas music, Beethoven’s Requiem, arena ballads and more brought alive with dueling guitars, shredding violin and incredible vocal talent that echos stylistic characteristics of 80’s metal bands such as Queensryche and the Scorpions. The show manages to provide auditory and visual breaks with soft acoustic ballads lit only by a spotlight and an arena full of camera flashlights swaying to the music.
These breaks are worked in so seamlessly that the show is bereft of a single moment that quantifies “a good time to slip out” for concessions or a bathroom break. The shows is worth seeing from start to finish.
Two and a half hours later when TSO begins their final medley, Wish Liszt/Requiem/Sarajevo Finale, the audience is snapped out of the trance that managed to move them with such pace that the time has quite literally passed in an instant. The finale did not disappoint as the presentation reaches new peaks and shows TSO at its absolute best with lights beaming, fire shooting and music rocking at full force until the climactic end.
As the band prepared to take their final bow, they brought a young boy up on stage and presented him with one of their guitars from the performance as the boy held the guitar high above his head the band took a bow, the lights came on and the crowds of the most diverse metal audience you could expect funneled out of Van Andel Arena.
Christmas season is officially kicked off in West Michigan.