Christmastime is the best time of year to ham it up, pull out all the punches and milk the sap at every stop, whether you're decorating your house or performing an arena-rock opera.
As was shown to a warm HSBC Arena crowd on Saturday afternoon, this is the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's time to shine.
Co-founded a decade ago in New York City by Buffalo native Robert Kinkel, the TSO has surged so much in recent years that it is now two groups, to satisfy the seasonal demand of arenas nationwide. Kinkel led his group to town for two shows in HSBC Arena, donating $1 from every ticket sold to the Women and Children's Hospital in Buffalo. Before the first show, the band and Kiss 98.5 presented the hospital with a check for $13,360.
TSO's electrifying 2 1/2 -hour set displayed the majestic mastery of its marriage of many camps full of camp: rock opera theatrics, hair-band heroics, arena rock lighting and pyrotechnics and Christmas revelry. The inherent excess of it all is delivered in a deluge of drama to the delight of head bangers and homemakers alike. To put it short, TSO goes big and lays it on thick.
The group featured 23 artists, led by Kinkel and his rock star-swiveling keyboards, along with guitarist Chris Caffery. Caffery was the chief crowd connector, shouting to the fullest and at one point donning a Buffalo Sabres jersey to make an obligatory, corny chicken wing joke.
Trading royal riffs throughout with fellow ax wielder Alex Skolnik, Caffery stomped the stage with Skolnik, bassist Dave Z, and violinist/string leader Mark Wood, who directed a string septet made up of local musicians.
Keyboardist Mee Eun Kim augmented Kinkel, while drummer Jeff Plate brought serious intensity to the back line. Eight vocalists added considerable color, while Bryan Hicks narrated with flair the yuletide rock opera "Christmas Eve and Other Stories," which encompassed the first half of the show.
With tall tales and giant jams, the opera outlines the flights of faith and foot that define Christmas, mixing in classic songs like "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," "Silent Night," "O Holy Night," and "Joy to the World" -- and hammering them home with more drama than a Broadway reality show.
Falling snow, fire and smoke, and a legion of lights and lasers overwhelmed the eyes, and the diversity of the singers kept the ears perked. While they all sang under a dramatic umbrella, Peter Shaw operated with operatic discipline, Jay Pierce crooned with show-stopping soul, James Lewis came ready to rock, Steve Broderick brought barroom swagger and Jennifer Cella popped it up.
Continuing with the constant feast for the senses in the second half of the show, the band rocked out with Lewis on "Christmas Night in Blue" -- complete with a full version of Eric Clapton's "Layla" -- and went instrumental with the crescendo-laden "Wizards in Winter."
Vocalist Tany Ling brought the opera back with incredible grace, while Kinkel conducted the climactic Carl Orff composition, "Carmina Burana," now famous for its frequent inclusion in action movie trailers.
Sure, the whole thing is a bit cheesy, but that's what is expected this time of year. TSO continues to grow, firmly established as an institution of Christmas camp.