Trans-Siberian Orchestra delivered holiday spectacle, shredding at Friday's San Antonio concert

click to enlarge Members of Trans-Siberian Orchestra shredding their way through a Christmas carol. - Bob Carey
Bob Carey
Members of Trans-Siberian Orchestra shredding their way through a Christmas carol.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s annual performances in San Antonio have become a holiday tradition. And for good reason: the band never fails to amaze with its hard-rocking take on holiday cheer.

During the TSO’s nighttime performance Friday at the AT&T Center, the venue lit up as bright as a Christmas tree as the group’s 10 or so musicians launched into the opening song, "Welcome," followed by the “Beethoven” overture.

Next came a track-by-track performance of TSO’s Christmas Eve and Other Stories album. This tour is dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the LP, which kicked off the band’s career as Yuletide rockers. For the next 45 minutes, TSO ran through the story of a man who sits at a bar and listens to a tale of holiday miracles from years past. The combination of songs, dancing and live narration gave the show a rock-opera aura that kept the audience — mostly made up of people over 40, grandmas included — enticed by the onslaught of festive guitar shredding.

Then the real magic happened. After a quick thank you to the crowd by TSO bandleader Al Pitrelli, who also gave a dedication to late co-creator Paul O'Neill, the show turned into a gala of holiday favorites.

Upping the spectacle, a laser show and mobile stage setup had the audience looking up, down and all around in a childlike state of wonder. Musicians levitated over the crowd on moving risers. Undulating orbs that changed colors with each song moved up and down from the ceiling. In addition to the band’s touring members, San Antonians got to take the stage as well as musicians from the local chapter of the TSO orchestra filled out the performance.
And what else could accompany that kind over-the-top level of light and sound but pyrotechnics? Plenty of us have seen the fiery blasts on those TSO tour TV commercials that play around this time of year — you know the ones — but in person, it was even more “Wow!” inducing.

Likewise, nothing quite prepares you for hearing the live version of TSO’s best-known holiday-turned-metal-ding-dong-track "Carol of the Bells." It filled the AT&T Center with grandeur.

Sometimes, the show was overdramatic as it tried to tug at the audience’s heartstrings, and the backup vocalists rocking out to the distortion-heavy carols felt cheesy. At the same time, those things kind of fit with the Christmas spirit — it’s an oversaturation of joy that helps people get through what could otherwise be a difficult part of the year.

There's a reason Trans-Siberian Orchestra has grown into a household name. Not just any musical act can make Grinches' hearts around the world grow the way this band can. And how many long-haired men playing chugging guitar riffs can get holiday-loving grandmas to rock out?

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