First of all,
We aimed to get there at 7pm, a half hour before showtime, so we left at around 6:40. At about 6:55 we ran into a traffic jam 2 blocks from the arena. We spent the next half hour parked on the street and barely moving at all! 7:30 came just as we were driving by the front door to the arena, still 2 left turns away from the parking garage. It was insane.
At that point we covered up the clock in my car because we couldn't stand the frustration. Cars just were not moving. At all.
What felt like 20 minutes later, our lane finally started moving, and then we got to the garage entrance in about 5 minutes. But then, just as we were turning left into the entrance with 5 cars ahead of us in each of 2 lanes, we saw the signs above both entrance gates change to say "CLOSED" and "FULL".
Fortunately they kept letting cars in and we got parked in about another 5 minutes. There were at least 40 spots left in the section of the garage we parked in.
We felt at least a half hour late at this point, and as we entered the arena we could hear the music playing, but we both had to pee first... We had planned on taking care of that before the show all along, which is part of the reason we left so much earlier than last year. Oh well. So we lost another minute there.
We finally found our seats and just as we sat down, the narrator started his first segment of the Christmas story part of the show. I guess before that they had been playing some intro songs to entertain the crowd members who were fortunate enough to have shown up 3 hours early or whatever it took. We're seriously considering that for next year.
The show was awesome, of course.
The lighting design was pretty much the same as last year except they rotated all the moving light trusses 90 degrees... last year they hung horizontally like a normal stage rigging system orientation. So this year each was hung with one end at the front of the stage and one end at the back. Plus every other truss was hinged in the middle so it was able to be bent down or straight like the rest, creating all sorts of possible configurations. A new kind of light included some kind of multi-color tubular light along the length of each of the straight trusses. Sort of fluorescent-looking but they had so much control of its color and brightness along the entire length of it that it might have been driven by a ton of internal LEDs. Unlike last year, I didn't see a single lighting instrument malfunction.
The music was the same... If they had more than one or two new songs, we must have missed them at the beginning.
For some parts I enjoyed watching the lighting control guy. He actually doesn't do much during the show. :) From what I could tell at a distance, he probably has 8 or so soft-keys programmed for each song with all the effects he needs loaded into them, so all he has to do is play it like an instrument along with the music to get the cues right.
I also enjoyed a different kind of light show... on the sound board. Every audio source has a light on its channel to indicate volume level. So for songs that had every instrument plus like 10 mics for vocals, the board lit up to the music very nicely. :)
This year they acknowledged the online video phenomenon where a house is lit up with lights programmed to their "Wizards of Winter" before they played it themselves, but I'm rather disappointed that they didn't hire the guy who programmed the lights for his house to design the lights for TSO. In fact they didn't change the light program for that song at all, just adapted it to their new instrumentation. They might have more and fancier lights than the house, but their choreography just isn't there. It's not even choreographed as well as the rest of the concert.
After the show Jamie and I just sat in our seats for a while and watched all the little lemmings break down the set. That's a show all in itself. They had the whole stage full of instruments and floor lighting cleared within a few minutes while the crowd was still filing out. We kept watching the breakdown, figuring it was better to wait there than in a garage full of idling cars honking their horns. An usher finally kicked us out after about 15 minutes so they could close the arena. Breakdown was still going on though... they had barely started lowering the hanging stuff.
We only had to sit in the garage for about 15 minutes before cars started moving so we were able to pull out of our spot, and then we were out of the garage within another 10. I totally agree with Jamie's suggestion that they should take money as you LEAVE the garage instead of as you go in. Move the insane delay to after the show.
I think next year we'll buy our tickets super early so we can get close floor seats and get snowed on, and show up at the arena 3 hours early. Otherwise, I'll read reviews of the show in other cities to see if it's much different from this year, and if not, I don't see much sense in going through all the trouble.