by Ryan Wasoba
Now a Christmas tradition, Trans-Siberian Orchestra will make a trek to St. Louis next month. I've been an outspoken critic of TSO for years now, and admit that my disdain toward the band has bred some unintentional negativity. This holiday season, let's explore the positive alternatives -- here are six Christmas staples that are better than Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
6. Watching How The Grinch Stole Christmas - Jim Carrey version That Ron Howard's movie remake of the Dr. Seuss classic book ranks above Trans-Siberian Orchestra is by no means an endorsement. How The Grinch Stole Christmas is a terrible, terrible film. The goofy Jim Carrey had already proven his diversity with The Truman Show, and should have known better. Yet, like The Ataris' cover of "Boys Of Summer" a few years back, the source material is solid enough that most hatred directed towards Grinch is based in its concept rather than its execution. Likewise, TSO can certainly play with an impressive level of proficiency. But its sources -- Christmas carols, hymns -- are far worse than Grinch AND its interpretations of the material truly need not exist. Furthermore, the band is guilty of contributing this nugget to the movie's soundtrack.
5. Getting fruitcake Fruitcake has become a punchline in the Christmas jokebook, and for why? Because it's tasteless? Because it's a gift you don't want but only receive from a distant relative who doesn't truly "get" you? Because it sits on your desk until spring staring at you in its worthlessness? If so, then the only difference between this maligned sweet and a gift-wrapped copy of Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Christmas Eve and Other Stories is the fact that a fruitcake will eventually decompose in a landfill.
4. Watching Holiday commercials The most frowned upon ads this time of year are those which re-write the words to Christmas tunes to invade your subconscious. Really, Trans-Siberian Orchestra operates with this same principle: get song stuck in head, use song as reminder of product. T-Mobile hopes that you will think of their "Walking in a 4g Wonderland" commercial when you hear "Winter Wonderland", just like TSO wants every version of "Carol of the Bells" to remind you of its biggest hit "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24". Holiday commercials are better because they eventually go away. Christmas comes but once a year, but TSO will spend the summer supporting its non-Christmas albums, which sound like Meatloaf taking an oath of abstinence. 3. Finding out Santa does not exist It sucks to lose a hero, but it's a rite of passage. If you never figure out that Santa is a lie, you live in a suspended reality. One could argue that Trans-Siberian Orchestra, like Santa, is not real. How can a man deliver toys to the whole world in one night? How can a group perform in St. Louis and Detroit on the same day? The answers only reveal the suspended reality in which TSO exists. If both Trans-Siberian Orchestras traveling the country simultaneously are real, then every Santa Claus in every mall is real too. Maybe the individual members of TSO don't matter because its shows are an experience. U2 concerts are enormous events too, but imagine Bono and The Edge splintering off into two groups to cover more ground. If all you need is a gut and a beard to be Santa, then you just need pyrotechnics, three tour buses, and a handful of American Idol rejects to be Trans-Siberian Orchestra. No, I don't have the aforementioned resources, but I also can't grow facial hair.
2. Listening to Mannheim Steamroller Mannheim Steamroller did the Christmas prog thing first, and therefore is the closest comparison to Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Both can be viewed as questionable, but Mannheim's take on the Yuletide catalog is more legitimate. Mannheim makes guitarless new-age Christmas music using sounds you'd usually skip over when trying out a Yamaha keyboard. Nobody had done that before because nobody thought to do it. The reason TSO was the first group to perform rock versions of Christmas carols that they call metal but sound more like tinsel? Because it was easy, and everybody who had the talent to shred through The Nutcracker Suite had better things to do.
1. Saving money It's a bad idea to make sweeping generalizations. With that said, it's exactly what I'm about to do. Most Trans-Siberian Orchestra fans are Christian, and likely to be the same folks who refer to themselves as "financially conservative". Nosebleed seats for TSO's show at Scottrade Center (1401 Clark Avenue, 314-241-1888) cost $41 after Ticketmaster fees* $82 if you bring a friend and you'd still need binoculars to see the drummer unnecessarily twirling his sticks through the fog machine. Frustrating that a majority of people dropping this kind of dough are the same who complain about wasteful spending. You know, like education programs or assistance for underprivileged kids. Spend your disposable income how you please, this is America. We're all entitled to life, liberty, and Marshall stacks blaring out "Joy To The World". I'll take 82 extra dollars in my bank account, even if it means a lump of coal in my stocking.
*Ed. Note: Fees only apply to online purchases -- the same tickets cost $29 if you buy at the Box Office, though the dollar amount is hardly the point here.