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Trans-Siberian Orchestra ignites Christmas spirit in high-energy show

According to ancient tradition, the Twelve Days of Christmas do not start until Dec. 25. But thanks to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, we’ve already seen the ladies dancing and, deafeningly, heard the drummers drumming.

Most of all, we’ve seen the lords a-leaping.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra, whose thunderous take on Christmas has become an annual tradition, is one hard-working troupe. At the crowded 3 p.m. show Sunday at First Niagara Center – a second show followed at 7 – the tattooed guys who fronted the heavy metal-like outfit were never still for a second. As the group’s famed lights and pyrotechnics unfolded crazily behind them, nonstop, they struck extravagant rock poses, jumped and danced, tossing their hair. They even rode lifts high over our heads, playing solos from above.

Their colleagues seconded the motion. This carried on for almost three hours, without a break. It was something to see.

As are the hyperactive special effects – which, the band had announced, were new and improved this year.

From the moment the show slammed into action with a wild adaptation of the “Dies Irae” from Mozart’s Requiem, the visuals lived up to their over-the-top reputation. One backdrop showed snow falling outside windows, against a beautiful midnight blue sky. And glitter snow began showering down on the crowd.

Also stunning was computerized footage of a glowing train moving through a wintry landscape, through mountains and cities. Perhaps this was a nod to the Trans-Siberian Railroad. In the “Troika” from “The Nutcracker,” we saw parades of nutcrackers and candy-colored onion domes.

The TSO changes its shows up now and then, and this was a new one, “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve.” A little girl has run away, and after being taken in by a protective gentleman (portrayed charmingly by Ossie Davis) who shows her various Christmas tableaux, she makes her way home, to the tune of the song “This Christmas Day.” The home was another beauteous sight, its windows full of trees, bears and toys. I never would have left.

The story includes such TSO yuletide standards as Pachelbel’s Canon, a wailing “O Holy Night” and the pounding, fiery “Carol of the Bells.” TSO trademark originals included “The Music Box” and “Wizards of Winter.”

We also got a taste of a different TSO creation, “Beethoven’s Last Night.” To the haunting tones of Beethoven’s Fifth and Mozart’s Requiem, a video showed Beethoven handsome and surrounded by lithe, cavorting ladies of various races. As a friend joked, it must have been Beethoven’s Christmas dream. He was not so lucky in real life.

For a novice like me, the band’s originals could grow onerous. You couldn’t catch all the words, and the tunes were simplistic.

But the performers know how to sell the music, with their nonstop warmth. No one on stage was ever on autopilot – not even the orchestra, reportedly made up of local musicians. Bryan Hicks was the eloquent Storyteller. Chris Caffery was the leader of the pack, skipping around with his guitar and shaking his blond mane.

The TSO has several divisions that perform the identical show separately. I regretted that the group we got this year did not include Robert Kinkel, who is from our area and co-founded the TSO with Paul O’Neill (also not in evidence). Kinkel does not appear on the band website’s current performance roster. Perhaps he is taking time off.

No one seemed to mind, though. By the time the show ended there was satisfaction in the air, as well as a good whiff of gunpowder from the fireworks. I liked Caffery’s square farewell: “Have a very merry Christmas and an extremely happy New Year.” Sometimes, even for the TSO, simplicity is best.


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