Saturday, January 13, 2007


America's Playground in the East was painted red and green Dec. 28 when the Trans-Siberian Orchestra decked the halls in Atlantic City. Though the symphonic-rock collective has been touring annually every holiday season since 1999, the Boardwalk Hall concert marked TSO's debut A.C. engagement.

Featuring a group of tuxedo-clad rock musicians backed by an eight-piece orchestra, TSO wowed the crowd with their rearrangements of holiday standards and well-known classical pieces, plus original seasonal compositions and a laser-light show. Originals like "An Angel Came Down" and "This Christmas Day" boasted a distinct Broadway feel with booming, dramatic vocals buoyed by crunchy and melodic arena-rock riffs. Think the Great White Way meets the Sunset Strip in the North Pole and you're there.

TSO dedicated nearly two hours to a track-by-track enactment of their multiplatinum 1996 debut, Christmas Eve & Other Stories, using a baritone-voiced narrator between songs to detail the album's tale of an angel seeking the true meaning of the holiday spirit on Earth.

One of the set's many highlights was "Christmas Eve Sarajevo 12/24," a hit single that's nearly ubiquitous on radio at this time of year. The tune blended holiday favorites like "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Carol of the Bells" with blazing fretwork courtesy of guitarists Chris Caffery and Alex Skolnick -- themselves members of '80s metal bands like Savatage and Testament, respectively.

After a short intermission, the group returned to the stage and cut loose for another hour of jamming that combined edgy rock guitar playing with the classical flair of composers like Beethoven and Mozart.

By the end of the evening, however, exactly what constituted yuletide music was open to debate; a rendition of Carl Orff's brooding "O Fortuna" from the band's forthcoming Night Castle album was neither holly nor jolly. But the concert's final selection -- a full-cast reprise of "Christmas Eve Sarajevo 12/24" that was laden with pyrotechnic blasts -- brought TSO right back into the holiday spirit. In the end, the far-reaching blend of classical and rock music ensured that concertgoers would find something for everyone on their Christmas "Liszt."