Christmas may be less than a month away, but the Trans-Siberian Orchestra made the ACC feel like a winter wonderland when they performed on December 3. And unlike many other musical acts that cash in on the Christmas craze by singing syrupy sweet songs, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is hard-driving, in your face and know how to deliver an experience.
What that experience means depends on how you view them and their music. They’re not just a group of musicians that put a hard rock twist on traditional Christmas songs; rather, they work hard at fine-tuning all aspects of what a great live concert should be: musicianship, varied song selection, video integration, and one heck of a lights show. There was even a good dash of fire added to round things off.
Plus, it’s hard to dislike the Trans-Siberian Orchestra when they donate $1 from every ticket sale to charity, and have so far given millions of dollars. But does philanthropy and exciting-on-paper additions always add up to a good show? Not necessarily, and especially when one particular element — one that seems to have really been thought out beforehand — makes the entire night drag on and on and on.
The dubious element in question is Bryan Hicks, who narrated a Christmas story in between songs. Possessing a voice somewhat like James Earl Jones’s, he told a story about a girl in an attic who discovers a box of letters. It appears like it’s the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s way of inserting an over-arching theme to their show at the ACC, but it didn’t work at all. The story was too disjointed to have an appealing continuous narrative; the interspersion of songs between each letter the girl read removed the audience’s concentration from being able to follow along.
How painful was it to sit there? Well, after the one-hour mark, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra were about a third of the way through their set, and it began to feel more like “The 12 Days of Christmas” rather than an exciting twist on the biggest holiday of the year. And the ACC crowd, normally quieter than a library during Leafs games, were positively moribund and lifeless, barely mustering the energy to politely clap after each song.
That’s not to say the entire show was bad; far from it. The lights show was marvellously spectacular, with laser beams flashing all over the ACC and making the venue seem like an elegant discotheque. Add in some pyrotechnics and a video screen with breathlessly captivating images, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra almost redeemed themselves.
While the music playing was tight — violinist Roddy Chung was particularly enthusiastic — and it was neat to see guitarists Chris Caffery and Joel Hoekstra appear at the back of the ACC and run up the stairs into the crowd, it was no comparison to the video aspect. Given the size of the ACC, having the video screen display a twinkling night sky was just magical, especially considering how rare it is to see stars in the downtown sky.
But the whole night just felt way too long and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra would do well to find another use for Bryan Hicks.