For many years, I have had a recurring sugarplum-infested holiday dream that I’ve held very close to my enlarged heart: to hear Mannheim Steamroller’s yuletide declaration of holiday thunder “Deck the Halls” performed absolutely live.
And, like an angel descending from the heavens to grant me my winter solstice want, that Christmas chimera finally came true when I saw Mannheim Steamroller live at the Civic Center Music Hall last week to perform that tune and many others on-stage to a maybe sold-out audience of retirees, boomers and Gen Xers on the cusp of irrelevancy, much like me.
Standing in the frigid air before the show, waiting in line as the Civic Center implemented their newish security measures, while it loudly upset people who have never had to deal with pat-downs and general frisks in their daily life, for me it brought back memories of growing up in an Oklahoma City public school, the rough-hewn hands of a science teacher gently squeezing me.
Once past this security point, however, the holiday spirit was alive and well in the Civic Center lobby, with a mostly gratuitous tree welcoming fans of the quasi-prog rock outfit orchestrated by Chip Davis in 1974. Originally known for their soothing proto-New Age Fresh Aire albums, the Steamroller didn’t start flattening the Christmas music market until the release of Christmas in 1984—exactly 35 years ago and 41 million albums later.
And here I am, finally realizing a lifelong dream since I first heard this group on some random morning talk-show way back in the 80s.
The seats for the show were possibly some of the best that the Civic Center has to offer: balcony seats right in the dead center of the audience; we had a perfect view of the Chip-less collection of artists performing tonight, an ensemble that was filled with a harpsichordist, two recordists, a small symphony section and a partridge in a pear tree.
Mannheim took to the stage and played two hour-longs sets; the first hour had tunes like “Exploding Angels”, “Climb That Wall (And Take a Momentary Nap)” and “Sleepytime Christmas Jam” among them. The second half, after a stilted video-pitch from Chip to buy their assortment of discs at the merch table, included a performance of the Christmas album, played in its entirety, as well as a somewhat bizarre tribute to the grand orgies of the Middle Ages.
But it was “Deck the Halls”, with its timpani-enthused bombast and guitar shredding swagger that, as much as this humbug-filled life has tried to repeatedly bah it out of me, fully immersed my soul once more in the metaphorical reason for the season, the grand illusion of goodwill towards all people and, maybe sometime in our lifetime, peace on Earth.
It was a clichéd moment of ethereal wonder I kept with me and attempted to cherish for a good part of the week.