In Defense of Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Christmas Prog Rock

Top this, Bing Crosby.

Top this, Bing Crosby.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra | Xcel Energy Center | Tuesday, December 30
Though Trans-Siberian Orchestra frequently enjoys positive reviews from the national media, public opinion has waned on the New Jersey-based stadium rockers. We hear that this overambitious, towering merriment is hackneyed, the ticket prices are astronomical, and each year, as their ever-expanding canon of operatic Christmas carols tours the country, TSO become more difficult to defend.

Recently, TSO were panned by The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal, LA Weekly, and Houston Press, among others. This Kozelekian takedown on The New Gay related their sound to "Satan's performance in 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia' crossed with a special holiday sale at Target where three underprivileged orphans are trampled to death and not discovered until the following morning."

I know critics are gonna keep saying TSO sucks. I know their schlocky holiday epics are tired maelstroms that are made for dudes with Cool Uncle Syndrome. The operative criticism against TSO is that it's overwrought. The lights, the power chords -- it's all too much for a nice, humble holiday. But I prefer my chestnuts roasted over pyrotechnics.


It's a deliberate extravaganza. Never have you felt "Jingle Bells" rumble in your chest so heavily or been mesmerized by "The Nutcracker Suite" so completely. Never has an incantation about snow and fir trees stirred shrieks for an encore.

TSO is foremost a stadium experience, and that doesn't make it, as some have proposed, a sacrilege.

Sleepy holidays are for book club members and Yanni fans, and I like to be reminded of my pulse during the yuletide. "Silent Night" is a quaint idea, but is that actually what occurs in a house packed to the brim with relatives? The thundering Kossack timpani and climbing fret work of TSO bring much needed adrenaline to a typically banal holiday palette.


While Paul O'Neill and company are the go-to for Clark Griswolds looking to one-up their neighbors, TSO isn't explicitly about overindulgence. Prog rock at its core is just prone to larger and more dramatic flourishes. The concept album was not created with humility in mind, and prog is designed for otherworldly contexts -- what's more otherworldly than Christmas? "An omniscient hermit calls upon enchanted deer for a winter odyssey" sounds like the script of a Rush album as it is.

In this sense, TSO is truer to the Christmas spirit than Josh Groban or Susan Boyle ever were.

Prog is a genre that's long been persecuted for its nerdiness, and in some circles that makes it doubly unwelcome on Noel. Rush and King Crimson won't take over the tree ornament market -- no matter what Etsy might tell us. Too many people don't want Christmas music that evolves. Those stagnant Mariah Carey and Bing Crosby standards that come out from the vault once per year sound exactly the same as they did when you packed them away last December.

TSO actively combats the stagnation of holiday music by re-conceptualizing every winter. Though their name-making moment came when they reworked "Carol of the Bells" into an epic overture called "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo," TSO are singular in their constant creativity.

The Christmas Attic is the show TSO is bringing to St. Paul this year. Though the show is based on the group's 1998 album of the same name, it's fresher than either The Polar Express or How the Grinch Stole Christmas in that it hasn't been ruined by constant rehashings.

The Christmas Attic contains 12 original songs in addition to four deconstructed classics, all of which have never been performed live. Thus, the show at the Xcel offers the unique experience of being both classic and entirely novel -- accomplishing something most holiday crooners don't even chance at.

Of course, you have to pay heartily for this balance, but that's the price of big-budget theatrics. TSO offers an out-of-Christmas experience that's worth spending all the cash your grandma stuck in your stocking. It's certainly not something you want to indulge in every year, but Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a necessary pace shift in the Christmas season.

Even if they're kind of corny and even if all isn't calm, all is bright.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra. 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., Tuesday, December 30, at Xcel Energy Center. Tickets.


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