Angry Christmas

Yesterday, Mama Nance leaned over from the seat right next to me at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, and in her loudest voice yelled right into my ear, “This doesn’t sound like holiday music to me — it sounds like ANGRY CHRISTMAS!!”

I don’t know where I got the idea that the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is nice holiday music. I don’t know where half the audience got that idea either, because there were young kids in attendance with their Christmas sweaters and Santa hats on, covering their tender ears. If I was confused about the intent of the program, it must have been completely beyond them.

The seizure-inspiring laser show and hell-fire pyrotechnics were about as far from Christmas as I’ve ever imagined. Mid-stream, a new piece from their latest album featured helicopters on 20 different monitors blowing things up as the fire machines on the stage gushed flames as from the mouths of dragons. The temperature in the arena (gratefully) rose about 20 degrees by the time the song was over.

I’ve never been a heavy metal fan though I know there are plenty in my age group who are. For those in the audience who like it, I’m sure it was a great show, but now I understand why half my peers can’t hear a word I say most of the time.

If I look at this more symbolically, it does represent something deeper this year.

I looked around at the mostly middle-aged audience, drinking beer and snapping pictures with their camera phones, some subtly doing head-banging movements with their scalps now shaved short to disguise the lack of hair that probably went through a stage of being at least shoulder-length at one time. Gyrating beside their little mouth-breathers, rock’n’roll dreams danced like sugar plums in their eyes as they tried to pass on a tradition to their children that once meant so much to them.

Maybe I was just born old or maybe I was raised to eschew this sort of display of “music”, but a small part of me thinks that perhaps I missed something in never having learned to appreciate the raw connection this sound makes with my very innards, shaking and rattling them with sonic force, appealing so violently to every sense that I could almost forget that all my pieces were integrated in one body.

And maybe this is a good representation of what the world is like right now. There is so much anger and disappointment floating around this Christmas, disconnection from the comfortable sense of integration we are used to, and the relief is in exploiting this powerful feeling of  powerlessness — letting go for an afternoon, releasing the need to acknowledge the holidays as something lovely and heart-warming. For some people, it’s simply not this year and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra knows how to musically illustrate the discomfort with their over-the-top performances.

The only other place I can imagine being as dark, loud, and full of fire is a place most fear spending eternity. But yesterday, we got to experience it and still walk away, our body parts surprisingly intact. Maybe this is how we’ll feel next Christmas when we re-emerge from the place we are in this year.

I probably wouldn’t have said so yesterday, but there was value in experiencing a TSO concert. But next time I’ll remember to wear earplugs!

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  1. Keith Y.
    December 7, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    I suppose I had different expectations of this concert. I found myself tolerating the Christmas portion of the show to get to the second half when they finally played something different. I’m a fan of the band’s former self, Savatage. I enjoyed being able to finally hear Savatage music performed live even if I did feel a little duped by the promise of new music that turned out to be old music repackaged. But I also acknowledge that’s what Trans Siberian Orchestra does. Even Sarajevo 12/24 is an old Savatage song. And if you want to see the difference between TSO and Savatage, just compare the two renditions of 12/24. The first time is the (relatively speaking) nice version that fits inside the Christmas Eve story–that’s TSO. The second time (the final encore) is more like the real Savatage.

    I think perhaps it’s time for TSO to retire the Christmas Eve story and see if they can survive as what they really are–a progressive heavy metal band of the likes of Dream Theater and King Crimson. If you want to hear who Trans Siberian Orchestra really is, listen to Savatage’s “Dead Winter Dead” and “The Wake of Magellan” CDs. You may even recognize a couple songs.

  2. December 7, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    Hi Ellen. TSO is a perfect example of music well-played, which I can appreciate the technical capability – but just doesn’t resonate well with my ears – I think there’s a disconnect for me with the subject matter being Christmas and the music being so aggressive and loud. It’s a mismatch. I agree with the comment before mine. Good thing they have an alter-ego in Savatage. I enjoyed reading about your experience! Times like that I wish we were screenplay writers – surely it would make a good scene in a movie. Take care…

  3. Ted E. Kinson
    January 5, 2010 at 11:09 pm

    Give me Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Andy Williams and all the other traditional greats that would cause my children to yawn, but at Christmas, these were the tunes that made me smile. TSO is a little too much for me at Christmas Time. I have friends who have seen the show and raved, But I guess I’ve been exposed to traditional tunes by my folks that I still love today. My favorites this year, that spoke to me were, “Mary Did You Know” Performed by several artists. “White Christmas” performed by Bing heard on Christmas Morn as I made my way to work @ OH Dark Thirty. And “Oh Holy Night” performed by many artists, But Celine Dion, really nailed it. When she hit the part, “Fall, on your knees”,… I nearly did.

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