As much as you wanna blame Christmas for "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer," Mariah Carey's "Joy to the World" dance remix and all the Christmas with the Chipmunks albums, it's not the holiday's fault. Christmas doesn't inspire shitty music-take a listen to Vince Guaraldi, Mahalia Jackson, Handel's Messiah or the Levees-but it does embolden god-awful musicians and crafty capitalists to pimp crap we're smart enough to ignore 11 months of the year.
The best (read: worst) combination of the god-awful and crafty is the Christmas tour.
Maybe it's just an odd twist of fate or part of God's Yuletide design, but this year the shows get better the closer we get to the birthday of history's most famous carpenter.
In the grand tradition of stepping up the holiday crush right after Thanksgiving, Dave Koz's Ninth Annual "Smooth Jazz Christmas" is at Copley Symphony Hall on Nov. 27. Smooth jazz is already unforgivable (the suck-factor of anything increases exponentially when you replace a Hammond B-3 organ with a Casio synthesizer), so when the music's compounded with "Jingle Bells," well, you get the idea. What makes Koz's pageant even sadder is that he's a great horn player when he wants to be-he's played with Chaka Khan and Ray Charles (but also with Joey Lawrence and Richard Marx).
Slightly more interesting and infinitely more bizarre is Trans-Siberian Orchestra, who play Cox Arena on Dec. 7. Every year TSO swindles senior citizens when The Nutcracker sells out. Desperate for anything seasonal, hordes flock to TSO only to experience a marriage of Broadway and speed-metal. Trans-Siberian could be described as Meatloaf does Christmas if it weren't so goddamn earnest. Bat Out of Hell succeeds because it mocks and celebrates the best and worst of Born to Run and Houses of the Holy. TSO mocks nothing in its sincere attempt to lull the baby Jesus to sleep with whammy bars.
If your tastes lie between TSO and Koz, try the Brian Setzer Orchestra. Yes, the man who wrote "Rock this Town" also wrote "Santa Drives a Hot Rod." Don't know "Hot Rod"? You will when it becomes a standard after the release of The Santa Clause 3 soundtrack. True, Setzer spends too much time dipping into the retro well; at this point, it's debatable whether he even knows the 1950s are over. But he's still a kick-ass guitarist who rocks out with a full big band. And if your peppy significant other demands a certain amount of Christmas music during the holidays, this is better than 90 percent of what's out there. Supporting Dig That Crazy Christmas (his second Christmas album in three years), Setzer is playing House of Blues on Dec. 18. If you miss him, his holiday special airs Dec. 20 at 10 p.m. on KPBS.
If you've been very, very good this year, maybe you'll get a pair of tickets to the Reverend Horton Heat's "Psychobilly Christmas" on Dec. 29 at House of Blues. The same guy who pioneered playing guitar with his dick now gives us We Three Kings-a collection of holiday favorites including "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," "Run Rudolph Run" and "Silver Bells." Like Setzer, the Rev can wail (and jump and jive). Unlike Setzer, the Rev may have made a poorly planned pact with the devil-for proof go to www.bostonmarket.com and download the first psychobilly Thanksgiving tune, "Turkey Gotta Gobble."
Of course, the crème de la crème of the roasty chestnut concerts is John Waters, who brings his semi-sane idea of holiday tidings to the Casbah on Dec. 18. We'd tell you about it, but if Mr. Waters means anything to you, then you're the sort of freak who already sold plasma to throw down for the $75 meet-and-greet.