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100 Things: Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Like Christmas, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra rolls around only once a year. But you hear the band's roar months before it arrives.

"The power of rock and the majesty of classical!" radio ads thunder, over the booming of the TSO's signature number, Pachelbel's Cannon. Did we say cannon? We meant canon. It's easy to get confused.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra could be the only thing on our 100 Things list that is technically not unique to our region. The band's convoys barrel all over the country, spreading its loud cheer to arenas everywhere. However, Western New York does have an inside track on the band. Keyboardist and founding member Robert Kinkel is from Williamsville.

Plus, our area is always among the best and brightest in the annual nationwide challenge of whose house lights, synched to a Trans-Siberian Orchestra song, most rival the lights of the Griswolds in "Christmas Vacation." The throbbing videos displayed on the TSO's website show how keen that competition can be.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra performs this year at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4, at KeyBank Center.

Don't go there looking for the Gospel of Luke. The band puts a New Age spin on Christmas that can be kind of weird, especially if you're new to it.

In 2015, the show told the tale of a little girl who ran away from home and was taken in and protected by a kind gentleman played in video footage by actor Ossie Davis. Eventually she found her way home, to a huge house full of drums, soldiers and teddy bears.

"That's typical," said the TSO fan who went with me. "All the shows are about some kind of homecoming."

The TSO is famous for its stunning computerized backdrops.  One breathtaking scene showed silvery snow falling. Next we saw a train -- perhaps the Trans-Siberian Railroad? -- wending its way among picturesque mountains, over rivers and past sparkling cities. Then the scene shifted again, and windows looked out on a midnight blue sky.

As the commercials promise, the music could be described as Christmas meets heavy metal. The musicians, striking extravagant rock poses, rode lifts that carry them high over the audience's heads. Hair flying, they played solos from above.

Talk about sensory overload. The “Dies Irae” from Mozart’s Requiem, an odd Christmas choice, glittered with snow drifting down on the crowd. Parades of nutcrackers and candy-colored onion domes accompanied Tchaikovsky. Other hallucinogenic TCO creations include "Queen of the Winter Night," inspired by Mozart's "The Magic Flute." And "Wish Liszt."

The show ends with fireworks and a Dickensian wish: "Have a very merry Christmas and an extremely happy New Year."

We like big here in Western New York, let's admit it. Witness other overwhelming stops on our 100 Things tour. Our Lady of Victory Basilica. Buffalo's massive City Hall. And our most recent adventure, the World's Largest Disco.

So go to the TSO and enjoy, without shame. Everyone is polite and friendly, and you'll run into people you know. The crowd is all ages. Founding member Paul O'Neill once told The News that he appreciates that.

"When you take out walls -- be it class, religions, anything -- it feels great," O'Neill said. "But when you jump the generational walls, that’s the biggest rush of all.

"It’s as if you go to the 'Lord of the Rings' movie. You'd see everybody in that audience. That's what I want. Really great art will cross everything."


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