"There's a reason arena rock died," my friend Jayson hissed at me, as we glanced at my cell phone for the third time in 15 minutes. Those numbers were changing much too slowly. We'd only sat through half an hour of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Christmas show, and already the extravagance rang hollow. The spectacle of hair flinging and V-legged rocker stances was funny for about seventy seconds. The novelty of existing inside a giant screensaver, circa 1993, held my attention for about nine minutes beyond the hair flinging. But now it just felt like some sort of penance — sit through the show to write the review.
We were at the 4 p.m. show on a Friday afternoon. The Verizon Arena was filled to maybe a fifth capacity. There were lots of small children accompanied by adults who must have experienced hair metal round one, and frankly, many people were loving it. The front section gave a standing ovation following the grand finale's multiple fiery blasts (hey, it was cool to feel that heat radiating), and throughout, one guy in front of me wildly clapped over his head. But to me, everything about the show was too much and yet, insubstantial. Trans-Siberian has amazing production value. There are big lights and big sounds, hoping to coax big emotions. Every rock and roll cliche and every holiday cliche paraded onstage. Angels? Check. Peace on earth? Check. Stodgy old drunks spending a sad Christmas Eve in the pub? Check. Tight clothes, over-sized guitars, gyrations, wanky solos? Check, check, check, check.
Trans-Siberian is premised on reviving the rock opera, taking it "way, way further" than Pink Floyd and The Who, according to their website. The concept of a wholesome rock opera is bizarre, but I was optimistic. Maybe I should have been stoned. Trans-Siberian is not Tommy, and this is not 1971. Or 1987—"This would have blown my mind in 1987," Jayson told me, a few minutes in. And it's difficult for me to believe that in 2011, there's still a market for something that sounds and, despite sophisticated technology, appears so dated.
I have a high tolerance for holiday cheer and the requisite cheesiness. My mantle is draped in tinsel and weeks ago, I compiled a list of must-see lights. But Trans-Siberian overdosed on the cheesiness, and I find no charm in manufactured sentiment. Maybe your neighbor's personal homage to light pollution and loudspeakers blaring "Christmas with the Chipmunks" is tacky, but at least it's authentic.