Concert Review: Mannheim Steamroller

Claire Norton

Mannheim Steamroller, a musical group that began the genre “New Age,” performed their famous Christmas Tour live in C.Y. Stephens Auditorium Tuesday night.

The band is most famous for their alternative, yet epic takes on traditional holiday music, selling 28 million of their Christmas albums. Mannheim converts traditional holiday music into livelier, thriving masterpieces.

They began the concert with images and footage of press that Mannheim Steamroller has received throughout the years. NBC coverage, talk shows and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade appearances, from the past few decades, were all featured in the introductory video.

They quickly dove into the music by first playing the standard “Deck the Halls,” in a not-so standard and cinematic way, followed by “We Three Kings,” with which there was a music video to visualize the storyline. Most songs had visuals projected on a screen behind the band so that the audience could better connect with or refer to the songs. This was a great advantage because there was only one song, in the show, that contained lyrics.

Ron Cooley, who plays bass, lute and classic guitar for Mannheim, introduced his fellow band mates: Bobby Kunkle on the keyboard, John Blasucci playing the harpsichord and the synthesizers, Roxanne Layton on percussion and recorders, Becky Kia playing violin and Logan Pennington on the drums. Chip Davis, Mannheim Steamroller’s Grammy-winning co-producer and director, appeared on-screen to welcome the audience and inform them of his latest endeavors.

They picked back up with comforting songs such as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Traditions of Christmas” and “O’ Little Town of Bethlehem.” The harpsichord, recorders and synthesizers all formed these songs beautifully. “Traditions of Christmas” was a gentle, slow song, gave the feeling as if you are in a log cabin, surrounded by family and reminiscing on happier times.

More uplifting and fast-tempo songs such as “Joy to the World” and “Pat a Pan,” were played with more focus on the harpsichord. “Pat a Pan” had a Celtic nuance to it because of the harpsichord and snare drum’s presence.

The music video for this song played in-sync with Mannheim’s live performance. It implied that a young boy, a snare drummer, grew up to fall in love with a woman until he enlisted in the military and was shipped off to war. During his time spent on the battlefield, he reminisced of when he was a child and could beat on his drum, as well as when he and his lover would gallop through fields.

Gentler songs, such as “Christmas Lullaby” and “Catching Snowflakes On Your Tongue” made for a calm, soothing feeling. Both of these songs focused more on the piano, still synthesized and uplifting, to make for a more whimsical and playful sounding song.

“Faeries,” was played next. Its bass-driven beat got the audience to nod their heads and Cooley to put on a Santa Claus hat. “O Tannenbaum” was played with a music video that contained an entire choir singing along to Manneheim Steamroller’s instrumentals. They also played their version of “O Holy Night,” a stunning song starring notes from violinist, Becky Kia.

For “Above the Northern Lights,” a magical, tranquil song sharing what it must feel like to be taken away to the aurora borealis, the darkened ceiling of Stephens Auditorium was then covered with tiny specs of lights to imitate stars.

“Greensleeves” was the only song with lyrics and a vocalist. With this soulful song, a video played to show the vocalist, Elyse Davis, singing along to the performing Mannheim.

Cooley paused in the second half of the concert to share with the audience that songs from their most famous album, “Fresh Aire” were about to be performed. They began the “Fresh Aire” portion with captivating songs such as “Chocolate Fudge” and “Sonata.”

The concert concluded after several unfamiliar songs, “Pass The Keg (Lia),” “Toccata,” “Four Rows of Jacks,” “Come Home to the Sea” and “Leonardo,” a song and a video depicting the life and creations of Leonardo DaVinci.

The most unique song was “The Steamroller.” This tune was all about a cartoon steamroller, as shown on the music video projection, and a high school dance. This song used the cowbell and prerecorded steam noises, which made for a hammering beat for the audience to tap their feet to.

The most popular Mannheim Steamroller songs were saved until last. “Good King Wenceslas” and “Carol of the Bells” outshined all of the other songs with an epic buildup right from the beginning. The drums carried out amazing choruses and the relentless synthesizers gave the Mannheim Steamroller signature feeling of excitement.

A member of the audience exclaimed, “Aw, come on! That’s it?” after a burst of applause following “Carol of the Bells.”

Mannheim acknowledged the request with a quiet song, which included sounds from a toy piano, “Auld Lange Syne.” As a last note, Mannheim gave their version and last salutation by playing a quick, soft compilation of classic Christmas jingles.

Mannheim Steamroller inspired an exciting atmosphere, by performing in C.Y. Stephens Auditorium, and heightened the audience’s anticipation for the most wonderful time of the year.