It's starting. And soon it will be everywhere. In the context of the holiday season, over is talk of stomach aches from Halloween candy and fat love handles from Thanksgiving; now that those two holidays have passed, we've reached the inevitable point when we can't escape... The ever-present Christmas music.
I’m sure you’ve heard the excited hooplah from schoolmates and coworkers…something along the lines of "OMG! FM 100.3 KDIX FM is playing Christmas music all day every day! I looooove Christmas music."
While I wish I could be as ecstatic about Christmas music, I simply can’t. It’s probably because I hate Christmas music. Or at least I have for the past 10 years or so.
Although I grew up with some Aaron Neville, Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole and Manheim Steamroller Christmas albums, my Christmas music experience was ruined thanks to a part-time retail job I had in high school.
I used to work at a Sam Goody when I was 14 - a record store chain that has since been raped into liquidation by the current state of the music industry. I got the job and started working on a Black Friday, just in time for the joyous experience of holiday-time last-minute mall shopping.
To keep the mall customers in the holiday mood, Sam Goody ran a cycle of 8 or so music videos on loop, naturally all Christmas tunes. Now, if it was a Christmas mix with Nat King Cole and Brian Setzer, I would have been tolerable; but no, this was 2002 and everyone needed boy band pop to go along with their Yule logs. We’re talking N'SYNC singing about holiday cheer, Aaron Carter sitting on Santa’s lap, Hillary Duff belting out lonesome Christmas ballad... and for whatever reason, Christmas caroling with Ruben Studdard.
Long story turned into a somewhat shorter story - hearing those songs on a constant loop for 8 hours straight just about killed any joy I had regarding Christmas music and turned me into the Ebenezer Plooge I am today.
But that’s all in the past and I can’t cling onto traumatic teenage experiences forever. Maybe I should ease up and start embracing Christmas after all. That’s why this week, I decided to curb my prejudice and go see some live Christmas music, complements of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
As far as I knew beforehand, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, or TSO as the hardcore fans call them, play metal-based arrangements of Christmas songs and appear in holiday commercials when a bit of holiday "epicness" is needed via "Carol Of The Bells". Plus, former Megadeth guitarist Al Pitrelli, is the band’s musical director. (Also Testament’s Alex Skolnick used to be in the band too). So it couldn’t be that bad, right?
On our way to the concert, a friend described TSO as 60% metal, which I thought was a decent percentage. Better than being 10% metal. We rolled up to the arena, grabbed some beer, and watched the scene unfold before us.
All I can say is it was both epic and unintentionally hilarious.
At its core, TSO is a power metal band – tons of guitar solos, tons of melody, tons of soaring male vocals, tons of keyboards, and tons of blond hair flipping. The band looks the part; just imagine any stereotypical Northern European power metal band accompanied by a string section, an overly elaborate stage production and a narrator that sounds like James Earl Jones and looks like Lavar Burton.
And it was with the narrator that the eye rolls came. The dude would tell little bits of story relating to the songs... something about Christmas cheer, then a guy’s wife got pregnant and hemorrhaged during childbirth and died and the baby became mentally retarded and the dad put him into a State care home and couldn’t find the meaning of Christmas until he bailed him out (I sh-t you not, this is part of it...). And all the while, the narrator would rap out these bits of story in a Dr. Seuss rhyming fashion, all with predictable rhymes and overly exaggerated vocal inflections. Immediately juxtaposed to the narrator... was the metulz!
And my friend was right. It was 60% metal. It was just like going to a metal show, except the crowd was considerably older and the band was playing Christmas standards. I guess TSO’s thing is that they’ll make any Christmas song and turn it up to 11, especially with dueling harmonized guitar solos and four stage platforms that elevated musicians 100 feet above the crowd next to musically synchronized pyrotechnics.
Basically, if Stratovarius, HammerFall, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jesus Christ, your youth ministry pastor, Children Of Bodom, the lighting director from Pink Floyd’s "Pulse" tours, James Earl Jones and Dr. Seuss decided to get together to "work on a project", TSO’s live performance is exactly what you’d get.
Between laughs at the over-the-topness, I remember asking myself, what the hell am I seeing right now and whose grandiose idea was this? It seemed like whoever organized this thing thought, "How could I make power metal sell past people born in Illinois between 1976-1980? Ah, we’ll make it Christmas themed... Christmas is pretty popular right? We’ll throw some Christina Aguilera sh-t too!" (Yeah, there were some diva pop ballads thrown in there too because... why not?)
Overall, the band was spot on though and it was a fun show to see. Impressive musicianship all around and the stage production pretty much rivaled a KISS concert. It was just hilarious watching a metal band headband to the "Nutcracker" theme.
Although my love for Christmas music isn’t completely restored, I’ll say seeing TSO definitely made those Christmas tunes more enjoyable. I will say though, that had I seen this sh-t when I was 7, I would have been injected with so much Christmas spirit that I would have believed in Santa well into my 40s.
So I ask you this weekend, what are your thoughts on Christmas music? Is metal Christmas music too forced and cheesy, or is it pretty sick?
I’ll catch you all next week. Try not to get too crazy with your Ruben Studdard Christmas album.