Trans-Siberian Orchestra: Boredom or Bedazzler?

For longer than I can remember, my senses have been bombarded by the annual holiday season advertisements and catchy seasonal tunes. One constant amidst this barrage of Christmas time cheer is the yearly return of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Before this past weekend, I had yet to add a TSO show to my concert-going repertoire. That all changed on the afternoon of November 28th as the lights went down at Quicken Loans Arena (affectionately known as ‘The Q’) and the multi-faceted production took the stage. Would this holiday-themed concert live up to its hype or fall short of expectations?

As the show began, I quickly realized the stage and set I was laying my eyes upon was one of the most elaborate, if not thee most, I had ever seen in person.  There were 64 remote controlled turret-based, color-changing lights on the back wall afixed amidst a backdrop of video mesh.  Then there are the numerous concert lights secured to the overhead scaffolding offering yet another dimension to the lighting.  The stage was lined with lengthy bars of color-changing lights, illuminating the environment to resemble something reminiscent of a Tron landscape.  No cent was spared as two catwalks extended over the audience, of which the undersides were covered in video screens.  In addition, there were the alternating pyramid-shaped video screens that hovered above the performers.  Last but not least, were the numerous displays of pyrotechnics that offered jaw-dropping color-changing flames from an unearthly deep orange to blue to an eerie green. 

The group consisted of four female vocalists, three male vocalists, a narrator, a violinist, two pianists, three rhythm guitars, one bass guitar, a drummer, and a string section made up of approximately six violinists and two cellists.  That aforementioned string section was comprised of local performers from the Cleveland area whereas the rest of the cast are part of the regular touring act.  As for the show itself, a TSO concert is divided into two acts.  The first delivers a somewhat confusing, but modern story.  As Lady Gaga’s numerous wardrobe changes were a buzz kill to the flow of her show, the narration, while delivered in a booming voice recited from memory and not a teleprompter, was only a fraction of the first act that seemed to be never-ending in an unpleasant sense.  With roughly only one or two tunes in that first act that really got out to chase the hare, I found myself wanting the show to end quickly.  It was ultimately 80’s hair metal ballad collides with Christmas song. 

For the most part, that first act was ballad after ballad after ballad after ballad.  The lack of energy was simply draining, culminating with one of the male vocalists who talk-sang his way through a tune that felt like it was approaching the ten-minute mark.  With all that being said, this is how the show achieves such a wide-ranging audience; from the 13-year old boy in front of me to the 75-year old woman at the end of the row.  If you expect the older generation to leave a performance of hard rock guitar riffs smiling, you’ve got to apease them as well as the younger crowd.  TSO seems to gracefully walk this fine line.

Despite the overall slow pace of Act I, there is an incredible amount of talent on the stage in many forms.  The pair on the keyboards, one of which is the show’s musical director, tap the artificial ivory in rapid and flawless succession, threading the needle from one note to the next.  The violinist is a ball of energy as he guided his bow over his expertly played strings (the photo above was from a different performance).  The female vocalists are easy on the eyes in their incredibly beautiful and sensuous appearance, only matched by their easiness on the ears with their harp-like voices.  The guitarists, however, are front and center as the show tends to place the spotlight on them more than the others.  With the production’s roots in a metal band known as Savatage, it is no surprise why.  From this sound is where TSO was born. 

The second act took off like the proverbial bat out of hell.  The music grew in intensity.  An aggresively heart-pounding drum solo graced the stage.  The lights and lasers filled the air in luminescent frenzy.  This was the image and sound that came to mind when I think of TSO.  After a disappointing opening, my ears were finally digesting the Christmas-laced ferocity I was after!  What the heck is that?  No, this was no mad rush for a department store sale.  This was ‘Little Drummer Boy’ on steroids.  This was ‘Deck the Halls’ on a missile.  Pure electricty had surged throughout the sellout crowd and the very mixed demographic of the audience loved every bit of it.  Since the show was born out of Cleveland, Ohio over a decade ago, it was only appropriate to close out with a local song that concert-goers would truly appreciate; ‘Cleveland Rocks’. 

The applause was deafening and the show enjoyable, but would I return to another TSO concert?  Chances are, probably not.  That first act was an anchor on a ship trying to get out of port.  The second act cut that line and let TSO show what they’re fully capable of.  It’s unfortunate that the show’s first-half pace doesn’t allow them to let loose a little sooner.  I’m no expert (yet), but when assembling a production, rule numero uno is to not bring the audience down for too long with slow numbers.  That aside, I would attach an honorable yet simple badge of “good” when describing the overall entertainment value of the performance.  With that being said, “good” just isn’t good enough when it comes to earning my ticket sales a second time. 

For tour date near you and more information on the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, check out their website at:


1 Response to “Trans-Siberian Orchestra: Boredom or Bedazzler?”

  1. Brian White

    Good review. I concur, there’s nothing worse than zapping the energy right from the First Act. I only know of one of their songs…their famous song. It looks like an impressive stage show though.