In 1996 Paul O’Neill shared his vision with long time friends Jon Oliva, Robert Kinkel and Al Pitrelli and together they produced a show that is fifty percent rock concert, fifty percent Christmas spectacular which equals one hundred percent amazing. The Trans Siberian Orchestra (TSO) tour is celebrating its’ tenth anniversary this year (coming in at No. 22 in 2007 on the annual list of highest grossing tours with only a two month tour). It’s so commanding that guest vocalists like Joan Jett, Robin Zander, Stephen Tyler and Kelly Keeling stop by on occasion to sing with the band! TSO brought their 2008 winter tour show to the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio playing to a capacity crowd of all ages. This is a great accomplishment because not only has this show been extremely successful playing Christmas songs both traditional and originals (from their four concept albums; “Christmas Eve And Other Stories”, “The Christmas Attic,” “The Lost Christmas Eve” and “Beethoven’s Last Night”) in a time when society is trying to take God out of everything in life but it was also the first of two shows that day. This year TSO played an afternoon and an evening show at every venue. Yes, that’s right, a 3:00 p.m. show followed by a 7:30 p.m.-8:00 p.m. performance. Now, if that’s not enough to make you wonder how that can happen day after day get this. There are two TSO touring troupes! One on the east coast and one on the west, making sure everyone gets to share in the experience. At four shows a day for two months, it’s easy to see why they use over $2,000,000 worth of pyrotechnics a month. As added acts of caring, TSO lowered their ticket prices, put together special tickets packets for cites most hurt by unemployment and a portion of each shows’ ticket sales are donated to local charities the day of the show.
I first saw TSO in December 2008 in Columbus, Ohio and was completely blown away by amazing vocalists, talented musicians, the use of lights (both neon and stage), fire, lasers, music and enough falling snow to cover the floor. Yes, it even snows when TSO takes you on a journey my friends! The Cincinnati show started with the house lights growing dark and the three lighting rigs shaped like the Ohio State “O” lifted from the stage, rising twenty feet above exposing everyone or at least everyone thought. While the band was playing, down from the middle of each of the lighting rigs descended guitarist Chris Caffery, Master violinist Anna Phoebe and guitarist Alex Skolnick to join in the festivities.
The show continued on with narrator Bryan Hicks who throughout the show…connects each piece of the story together by painting a picture in everyone’s mind. The band ran through such classics as; “March Of The Kings” “An Angel Came Down,” “O Come All Ye Faithful/O Holy Night,” and others and then something made a loud “pop” and the stage lost all power except for a few spot lights. With the crowd letting out a roar and without missing a beat …Chris Caffery took charge of the situation, showing his professionalism and began to interact with the crowd leading them to sing “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer” and talking about the Cincinnati Cyclones. Then the orchestra comprised of talented local musicians began to play which made the time pass with ease. The power for the stage was restored some 15-20 minutes later (showing how even the road crew are professional) and lights began to slowly come back to life over the next couple of songs which gave me the feeling that the show was a living, breathing entity itself.
The band and crew started right back where they left off and finished the first part of the show with more songs including: “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24,” “Old City Bar,” “This Christmas Day,” and “An Angel Returned.” When I mentioned the first part of the show, I mean an hour and a half worth of show! After Caffery introduced the band and performers which includes; keyboards & Music Director Robert Kinkel himself, Luci Butler (keyboards), John Lee Middleton (bass), Boddy Chong (violin) and amazing vocalists: James Lewis, Alexia Goddard, Danielle Landherr, Jay Pierce, Steve Broderick, Adrienne Warren, Tim Hockenberry, Valentina Porter and Jamey Garner (Oliva, Pitrelli, Caffery, Middleton, Plate, Skolnick were in the band Savatage together) the second part of the show (another hour and a half!) began with more songs consisting from originals “Wizards In Winter,” “Queen Of The Winter Night” (showcasing Landherr’s limitless vocal range without singing a single word) to Beethoven and songs from their forthcoming “Night Castle” release and two dedications “Hall Of The Mountain King” and “Breathe” to Criss Oliva…Jon Olivas’ deceased brother and Savatage guitarist . The snow covered theme of the first part quickly melted away and was replaced with fire of red, orange, green and blue all dancing together with more multi-colored lasers and frenzied guitars and a captivating drum solo by drummer Jeff Plate.
For the finale, while the band was playing, Chris Caffery and Anna Phoebe jumped to the arena floor and ran to a stage that was set up in the back of the arena. They climbed onto the stage and began playing and suddenly the stage itself began rising up towards the ceiling spewing forth enough dry ice smoke from underneath to fill the venue. While they were playing, the rest of the band and show continued to play out until Caffery and Phoebe returned to the main stage just in time for columns of dancing fire, spinning flares, lights and performers to end the journey for now.
I encourage everyone to allow yourself this one special gift at this years’ end by seeing and experiencing the Trans Siberian Orchestra in person. As an added bonus, I met Chris Caffery before the show and he was kind enough to take a picture with me. I have been to many a concert in my time including KISS and many other heavy hitters and I can honestly say that this is one production that I really wish I were a part of!
For more information on TSO please visit the “Artists Links” section for the bands’ website link.