Now that the holiday season is upon us, I wanted to share with you all a bit of a Christmas treat. At this time of year I try and look for entertainment in the holiday vein. If I can, I try to find something within the realm of the guitar. Several well-known guitarists put on a touring Christmas rock show each year – one being Brian Setzer. This year, I checked off another item on my guitar bucket list. I had always wanted to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra. As a matter of fact, this is the only time of year that you can see them as they only perform during the holiday season. Much like the famous Radio City Christmas Spectacular, TSO puts on the equivalent of a Broadway show albeit in a rock format. They integrate classic tunes from the likes of Beethoven, Liszt and Mozart into a melodic guitar-based Rock experience. They also play their own classically influenced Rock compositions. Not limiting themselves to merely music performances, they integrate it all with a dazzling light show consisting of lasers, visuals, pyrotechnics and even high voltage electricity (more on that later.) While a lot of people feel stressed during this time of year, it’s good to relax, spend time with your friends and family and perhaps gather with others in watching a Christmas spectacle. In that realm, Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a rocking holiday treat!
All of this began in 1996 when producer, composer and lyricist Paul O’Neill conceived of the idea of blending Rock with classical music in a holiday presentation. He played guitar along with Al Pitrelli, singer Jon Oliva and keyboardist Robert Kinkel, all formerly of the progressive metal band Savatage. They began touring as a group in 1999. Their first gig as TSO was at The Tower Theater in Philadelphia. Throughout their 20+ year career they have had a string of classically-themed Rock hits – the most well-known perhaps being “Christmas/Sarajevo 12/24” which is based “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and the Russian holiday classic “Carol of the Bells” by Mykola Leontovych. Other hits include “Christmas Canon Rock”, “Wizards in Winter” and two from Savatage – “Handful of Rain” and “Believe.” O’Neill died suddenly in 2017 but the rest of the group decided to carry on so that the public would continue to enjoy the experience that he conceived.
While Broadway plays have integrated Rock or Pop music for years (Grease, Jersey Boys, etc), integrating Hard Rock, (in this case 80s-style Metal) with Classical compositions in a Broadway format had not been done before. Under O’Neill’s vision however, it worked very well. There is a lot of melodic electric guitar playing – crunchy rhythms, soaring solos and even some shredding at times but not to the point of excess. Joining those two elements with a light show that is second to none makes for an amazing experience. In a word – it’s dazzling! In between classically-influenced songs they would play songs featuring male or female vocalists in a Rock style that still managed to bring down the house. Some numbers featured acoustic guitars and were a good way to lighten the mood before once again bringing on the full force of a no-holds-barred Rock show. I can’t think of a more entertaining show that I’ve been to that brought together the elements of music and visuals except for maybe Kiss. And like Kiss, they know how to wow a crowd!
Ok, enough talking. Now, this is my Christmas present to you – a portion of the show, complete with lasers, strobes and something I had never seen before at a concert – two huge Tesla coils that would arc to the music. The sound of the coils zapping the electrode was in pitch with the music – that blew me away! The electrode even belched fire at times. It was a finale that rivaled the fourth of July and maybe that was the intent. Fireworks? Pfft! I’ll take Tesla coils zapping and belching fire over fireworks any day. Ok, so I was geeking out a little but even a metalhead can appreciate Tesla coils!
I hope you enjoyed my little gift. It’s not too late to see them. Their tour runs through December 30th. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.
Happy Holidays and keep on rockin’!
What’s your favorite song from Trans-Siberian Orchestra?