Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Trans-Siberian Overkill

Out of curiosity and a fascination with Christmas music, I took my wife to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I'd interviewed TSO's Paul O'Neill and heard in his answers a note of condescension toward pop and rock that inevitably leads to prog rock. But nothing prepared me for the visual onslaught. The Decepticon light rig (code name: Dazzler) yawned, sloped left, then right, fired lasers into the crowd, showered sparks on the stage, and the stage answered with three different types of pyro. My wife and I were in often in hysterical laughter, but no one else in the sold-out arena was, which was the problem. I walked away from the show trying to figure out how such a humorless, irony-free display of prog metal spoke to an audience. What was touched in people that this was a seasonal music they responded to? When I heard the TSO version of "The Carol of the Bells" as bed music on ESPN before a football game Sunday, I thought the music had found its proper context.

People around us were happiest when they quoted Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, which made me think this is all about the rock, and that people will like classical and Christmas music if its recast into a more familiar vernacular. But many people weren't the standard classic rock audience - many significantly older. Is it that our culture has so focused Christmas on children that any holiday concert that isn't infantile appeals to an adult audience?

The show was so Vegas that it seems like the answer must lie in network of Vegas aesthetics, perhaps in a presentation of two musics that are suspect to a mass audience - Christmas music being a guilty pleasure based on what I've read on blogs - without the elements that make them unpopular.

Then again, no one seemed all that caught up in the show. People watched intently, but no one I could see was worked up, banging a head, or rocking around. It was definitely an emotionally remote show, suggesting that TSO wasn't a passion but the sort of thing parents take their kids to because they want to expose them to classical music because it's supposed to be good for them.

Obviously, all of those are possible, and they aren't mutually exclusive. The audience wasn't all there for the same reason(s), but it still feels like something's missing. Nonetheless, it was exceedingly odd to hear music I have a strong history with coming back to me in such an inexplicable form.

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