At Annual Prog-Metal Special-Effextravaganza, ’tis the Season To Be Heavy

Yes, Spïaut;nal Tap beat Trans-Siberian Orchestra to the metal Christmas-music punch in 1984; “Christmas With the Devil” was a joke that was as funny then as now. Trans-Siberian Orchestra, though, are no joke to the thousands who flock to arenas and theaters to see their holiday metal spectacular, which, after five years, is now an ongoing concern that mounts two simultaneous touring shows during the season.

The brainchild of producer-songwriter Paul O’Neill, members of prog-rock band Savatage and others, TSO mostly recall the late-’80s shredding guitar and synth of Van Halen mixed with the Mozart aspirations of E.L.P. Drawing upon the Christmas and classical canons, TSO skillfully integrate all the great riffs—strategically placing each bit for maximum emotional impact, delivering them with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s stage histrionics and a confused parable for the kiddies on the meaning of Christmas.

The two-and-a-half-hour extravaganza featured the F/X holy trinity of lasers, smoke machines, and pyro. Hundreds of choreographed lights flashed and flickered as Pachelbel’s Canon in D and Beethoven’s Fifth and Ninth Symphonies rang out. At one point during “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” fake snow fell to create a three-dimensional effect as beams shot in every direction before fanning out over the crowd. The overkill was impressive.

The tuxedo-clad band, however, was less so. As the drummer twirled sticks behind his synthetic-sounding electric kit, guitarists played with a boorish testosterone swagger, and the bassist pointed to various spots in the audience, nodding knowingly. Sharing leads and backup duties, seven singers and a narrator all looked and sounded like they’d done time in Rent.

In between songs, guitarist Chris Caffery chatted amiably with the fairly mixed audience, talking up the Yankees, thanking everyone imaginable before finishing with the servicemen and -women overseas. He also slipped in a number of plugs for upcoming tours and albums. Between the can’t-miss material, the down-home sales pitch, and the dazzling light show, the most impressive part of TSO is actually their marketing plan. —Tad Hendrickson

Snowshoeing Round The City For Primo Deals On Musical Stocking-Stuffer Stuff

Real Life Consumer Guide 2003

Maybe we should just do this the easy way: The Outkast record is $13 at J&R and Discorama but $19 at Tower and $17 at Virgin (or, if you know your Secret Santa victim really well, $10 in the Other Music used bin). Pick up one for each person on your shopping list and you’re done. Hey ya! Don’t forget to ask for a gift receipt.

Booty-shaking Atliens not your scene? Sorry, you’re going to have to do some hoofing. We checked eight downtown emporiums for bargains on 20 hot gift items and once again found that no one location can be counted on to have the lowest prices. As ever, J&R, St. Marks Sounds, and Discorama remain our best bets, but they didn’t have every item in stock; the big chains have the goods but will charge you more. (This year Virgin seems to be slightly undercutting Tower; do the sharks smell blood?) The Web’s no better: sometimes susses out better deals than and, but not always, and it failed to link to either of them. And yes, we know they’re all $10 at iTunes, but you’re not giving anyone iTunes, are you? (Though have you checked out the allowance function? How creepy is that?)

High and lowlights: Basement Jaxx, Kish Kash (Astralwerks), Sounds $10 (cutout), $11 (new), J&R $17; Beyoncé, Dangerously in Love (Sony), Discorama $10, Virgin $15; Broken Social Scene, You Forgot It in People (Arts & Crafts), $8.66, Virgin $10, Tower $14; Elephant Man, Good 2 Go (Atlantic), J&R $8, Virgin $11; Al Green, I Can’t Stop (Blue Note), Discorama $11, Virgin $17; Michael Jackson, No. 1s (Sony), J&R $10, Virgin $15; Jay-Z, The Black Album (Def Jam), $8.66, J&R $10, Virgin $16; Junior Senior, D-D-Don’t Stop the Beat (Atlantic), $9.34, Virgin $10, Tower $15; Kylie Minogue, Body Language (Festival import), Virgin $17, Tower $20; Liz Phair (Capitol), J&R $10, Tower $19; Shins, Chutes Too Narrow (Sub Pop), Discorama $10, Tower $16; Strokes, Room on Fire (RCA), Discorama $10, Mondo Kim’s $17.

Bonus sealed vinyl rummage items: J&R—Wild Seeds, Mud, Lies & Shame LP; Shadowmouth: Compilation One (NJ ’80s cassette noise label), 49 cents each. Mondo Kim’s—Ricky Martin, “Livin’ la Vida Loca” 12-inch, 50 cents. Other Music—Billboard Top Rock n’ Roll Hits, 1955, 1963, 1966, each 99 cents. Sounds—Sonny Stitt and the Top Brass, $3.49 (cutout). Tower—Graham Parker, 12 Haunted Episodes, Live From New York, NY; Matthew Sweet, 100% Fun, Altered Beast, $1 each. Virgin—ELO Greatest Hits, $3.99. —Josh Goldfein

Addresses: Discorama, 146 East 4th Street, 186 West 4th Street, and 40 Union Square East; J&R Music World, 23 Park Row; Mondo Kim’s, 6 St. Marks Place; Other Music, 15 East 4th Street; St. Mark’s Sounds, 16 and 20 St. Marks Place

Archive Highlights