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Christmas in leather chaps with Trans-Siberian Orchestra

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Lewis Lee

We don’t get snow, blizzards or naturally growing Christmas trees, but there are still a few things Las Vegans can do to get into the Christmas spirit. Go sledding on Mt. Charleston or ice-skating at Lake Las Vegas. Drive through the Gift of Lights at Sunset Park or see the Nevada Ballet Theater’s Nutcracker. Or, for a livelier take on the holiday, go see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra perform at the MGM Grand on Thursday, November 20.

Founded in 1996 and touring nationally since 1999, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s concerts have become a Christmas tradition for American families. Under their music videos on YouTube, the raving comments go on for pages: “I saw them last night in Sacramento. Best concert ever!” “One word: Epic!” Out of hundreds of reviews, there are nearly no negatives.

Fans claim that TSO’s live shows are superior to those of Kiss, Metallica and Iron Maiden, and (arguably) on par with those of Pink Floyd. Lights, lasers and pyrotechnics synchronize with the orchestral rock music, and the set takes 15 hours to set up and costs over a million dollars every two weeks - doesn’t sound like the standard gig for a band that performs what amounts to updated Christmas carols.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra may conjure up images icy tundra in Eastern Europe, but the group was founded in Lakeland, Florida and is now based in New York City. TSO is comprised of a 16-piece band and 20 vocalists and narrators, but swells to include a 60-piece orchestra and full choir in the recording studio. On stage, lank-haired men working electric guitars like rock stars mingle with female vocalists in evening gowns to create a show that seems like a cross between a heavenly winter wonderland and a testosterone-fueled, leather-and-tats metal concert.

The wintery angels seem to win out, though, because TSO sings about Christmas, performing rock opera renditions of carols that fuse the seemingly antithetical genres of heavy metal and classical into something shiny and vaguely new. Throughout the show, the narrators tell move-your-mom-to-tears stories from their platinum concept albums Christmas Eve and Other Stories, The Christmas Attic, Beethoven’s Last Night and The Lost Christmas Eve.

Their most popular songs are “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24,” a powerful progressive-rock rendition of “Carol of the Bells,” “God Rest Ye Marry Gentlemen,” “Christmas Canon,” (an elaboration of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D”) and “Wizards in Winter.”

"Ever since I was a kid I always had a fantasy band in my head," says the group’s founder, Paul O'Neill. With pyrotechnics exploding and Christmas angels singing to a distinctly rock soundtrack, TSO is it.

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Jennifer Grafiada

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