For the last twenty one years, composer and writer Paul O’Neil’s vision of a rock opera has toured across the world many times over while delivering one of the most unique and exciting shows to ever grace a stage. And in that same time, Trans Siberian Orchestra has sold over 10 million records and have totaled over $280 million in ticket sales alone. Paul’s dream has grown into something that I’m sure has exceeded everyone’s expectations. But thanks to Jon Oliva, Robert Kinkel and the versatile guitarist and Musical Director Al Pitrelli, the show has constantly evolved giving fans something new to look forward to year after year. And those in attendance for tonight’s show will be left in awe and what is in store for them.
Before the show even starts, members of the group presented Mel Taylor of local rock station 101.1 WJRR a check for $8,700 for their Give.Local.Love campaign to help local charities, events and volunteers within the community. TSO has been more than charitable over the years, donating more then $11 million to charities across the country. They give yearly to The Salvation Army, Toys for Tots, Little Kids Rock and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and like they did today, the band donates $1 from every ticket to a local charity chosen by the radio station that is hosting their show.
As wind and snow begin to echo throughout the venue, Al Pitrelli takes center stage and dives into the show with an instrumental rhythm section soon to be followed by the powerful vocal range of the choir. The panel displays all around the stage now have us in the looking down on the earth from the stars above, descending into a snow covered city until we find ourselves in a corner bar where story teller Phillip Brandon begin to use his deep baritone voice to lock in the attention of all in attendance. It is at this point our story of the angel begins, represented by singer John Brink who steals the show every time he steps in front of the mic.
As the angel passes over Sarajevo, he lays his eyes on a war torn nation. And through the conflict he spotted a single cello playing a forgotten Christmas song. And as he flew away he did take note, that when he found this music played, one could always find hope. Soon there after, the beginning of the song that catapulted TOS to stardom begins to build up but not as quickly as the roar of the crowd. “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)” plays like a battle song accompanied by one of the greatest light displays I’ve ever seen from a stage. There are many elements that set this show apart for the others, but the visuals that are presented throughout every song is nothing short of spectacular and make you feel like you are on the voyage with the angel himself.
The first half of the show was filled with soulful vocals, virtuoso guitar playing, extraordinary stage show and superb story telling. It was everything that I could have possibly expected and more considering this was my first TOS show (yeah I know, I’m late to the party). I’ve been to many shows in my life, but this was the first rock opera and I can’t imagine anything possibly topping this. Even though you can see all of the elements in front of you, it’s hard to comprehend how 85 stage hands can put together such an amazing stage. Al Pitrelli comes out to interact with the crowd and at one point let’s everyone know “I swear. In about 3 1/2 minutes, it’s gonna get all sorts of goofy in here”. But me personally, I would have used “Explosive”!
After the vocalist introductions, the lights go out and the sounds of rain and thunder pound across the building as LED lights begin to drop down from the ceiling to mimic the falling rain over the crowd. As everyone’s attention is drawn to the stage, little did they know that a large fire breathing static coil was rising up in the back of the floor. But when the lead guitar kicked in setting that coil off, the wasn’t a soul under that roof that didn’t see or hear it. “The Storm/The Mountain” brings the heaviness and enough pyro on stage to make anyone sweat. I felt like the lighting was trying to keep up with the speed of the blistering lead guitars as they swept and flashed in every direction.
After a section of songs that would include an original Savatage song “Handful of Rain” as well an amazing rendition of Mozart’s masterpiece “Figaro” which sent eletric violinist Asha Mevlana on a bow filled assault across the stage while she shred as furiously on those four strings as the guys did on 6. Band leader Al Pitrelli returns to the stoplight to introduce the main band of TSO as well as founding member of Savatage and TSO composer Jon Oliva who was taking in the show from the soundboard area. He then gives thanks to founder Paul O’Neil who had passed away almost three years ago. Al remembers being in the studio at the mixing board and out of nowhere a cassette tape was just laying there. He pops it in and low and behold was O’Neil strumming on an acoustic guitar singing a song he had never heard before. Al and singer Andrew Ross then gave us that very song in “Can You Hear Me Now”.
Beethoven’s “Requim/ The Fifth” gave pianist’s Vitalij Kuprij and local Lakeland, Fl talent Jane Mangini their chance to dual it out on the keys during this classic piece (although Vitalij had the look down solid). And what better way to close out the show then to get the fans one more taste of their smash hit “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)”. This time it brought guitarist Angus Clark and his flying V out into the crowd for solos and high five. The songs conclusion would trigger enough lights and fire to rival Disney causing the building to erupt with cheer which lasted well beyond the performers final bow.
From start to finish this was one of the most impressive shows I have ever seen. Every element is taken to a level not easily achieved and to do this multiple times a night is a feat I can’t even wrap my head around. Looking back at videos of past tours I can only watch in amazement at the fact that how much each tour evolves from the last, and I don’t mean by little things here and there. I’m talking about rising platforms lifting guitarist 30 feet in the air, lighting rigs coming down from the rafters with violinist running across or having two entire catwalk running the length of the floor. Year after year this production team spends countless hours designing and bringing these dreams to life for the fans who sell out show after show for their chance to witness something truly special.