The Trans-Siberian Orchestra came to town as it has done for quite a few years now -- and played its traditional heavy metal-tinged Yuletide rock opera before a host of true believers, many of whom sang along with the band's singers and hung onto every familiar turn of musical phrasing.
For the audience members who showed up for the TSO's Sunday afternoon gig in HSBC Arena, there was an undeniable comfort factor involved with bringing folks raised on rock 'n' roll to an all-ages program filled with family-friendly lyrical content and guitar-shredding instrumental work.
The staging was awesome, too! Banks of lights hung from metal girders driven by servo motors and guided by technicians using sophisticated computer programs. Lights swung forward, backward and from side to side with the delicate, elephantine grace of the pachyderms in Disney's "Fantasia" crossed with Terminator's robotic precision and power.
Laser beam patterns pierced smoke screens while rapid-paced video drop-ins visually echoed the churning guitars and swirling keyboard filigrees.
Guitarist and on-stage ringleader Chris Caffery, drummer Jeff Plate, bassist David Z (aka David Zablidowsky), vocalist James Lewis and the stentorian narrator Bryan Hicks have been in Buffalo on prior TSO tours, but electric violinist/Concertmaster Roddy Chang and guitarist Joel Hoekstra were the most visible additions to the ensemble.
Ericka Jerry, who has sung back-up for acts including Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga and Macy Gray, was the most formidable of the newer singers on stage.
Robert Kinkel, one of the masterminds behind the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, was born in Western New York and has performed in the Buffalo shows for the last few years, but his usual position at a keyboard on the house right side of the stage was taken by Derek Wieland, while Luci Butler provided the synthesizer fills.
Hicks provided the basic storyline, spinning off the simplex rhyming patterns of the lyrics with considerable aplomb, setting the scene for the instrumentalists to charge into metal-fueled snippets of "O Holy Night," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "Joy to the World" and "Good King Wenceslas." "Nutrocker," the classic rock revisionist take on Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" (originally performed by B. Bumble and the Stingers), was another fun riff for the ears.
Jerry's version of "The Music Box" and Lewis' take on "This Christmas Day," both original tunes created for the TSO, were vocal highlights.