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The Rock Show: Trans-Siberian Orchestra: The East Tour
Posted on Thursday, December 16 @ 09:46:14 MST by roadrash
 ShowsFrom the depths of the '80s Metal scene was born a modern day phenomenon when members of Savatage came together to create an epic musical experience in the form of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Almost a holy event, TSO attracts fans of all ages and walks to sold out shows around the country every year. Some attend for the music, others attend for the stage show, but all walk away with a head full of incredible memories from one of the grandest spectacles devised by mankind.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra: The East Tour
By Dave Jackson
Photos by Donna Rickles

You know it's going to be a good night when you're sitting in your seat, dead center on the floor, and Tim Owens (of Judas Priest fame) sits down right in front of you (a very cool guy by the way). Akron Ohio's Civic theater (built in 1929) has architecture that you just don't see anymore (plush carpets, giant staircase, gorgeous statues), and it was bringing in people of all ages and sizes (the couple next to me was 60 years old � and had no idea what was about to smack them upside their head). It was like seeing a show in a palace.

"This ain't no holiday bizarre" the DJ from a local radio station stated, as she greeted the crowd; "This is a ROCK SHOW." This was Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO). If you've never heard of them, they came on the scene a few years ago with a Metal version of the famous Christmas classic "Carol Of The Bells." Every year in Ohio, it becomes a favorite of radio (as TSO sells out concert after concert). TSO is a band made of one part Mozart, one part Dream Theater, one part Skid Row, and one part Tori Amos. Actual members of the Metal band Savatage started the group and are still part of it.

TSO consists of approximately 25 members (there were a lot of people on that stage), and they have organized musicians of all shapes and sizes, from New York Opera singers to Korean keyboard players. Much of their music is instrumental, and while you may not recognize the titles, 90% of it makes you go "Oh yeah, I've heard that before (i.e., "The Flight Of The Bumble-bee").

The show opened in a sea of red steam and green lasers that darted across the theater. The lighting system itself was built of highly polished chrome and it seemed to be bouncing light off the chrome into the crowd. Don't be fooled by the guys in tuxedos, when the band kicked in with "Wizards In Winter," this was a rock show. As I said before, some of their songs are instrumentals, so I don't remember ALL the names. However, I do remember that it rocked.

Early on, the instrumental "First Snow" seemed to be a big crowd pleaser. Starting with it's signature guitar riff played by guitarist Chris Caffery on his gold Randy Rhoads guitar, the crowd joyously clapped along. The light show then went into overdrive. If you remember the video "I Want To Rock With You" where Michael Jackson sang in front of a bunch of criss-crossed lasers, then you'll understand what I mean when I say a giant "grid" of lasers shot out across the auditorium. . .and it moved and rotated and was extremely beautiful. Way up top, in between statues, they had rigged some snow machines. It began to snow as strobe lights and other lights shot through the flakes, making them sparkle. The combination of the classic theater, the lasers and snow is a sight I won't soon forget. It was breathtaking.

In between songs, the sub-story of a girl making it home for Christmas was told by Bryan Hicks. After the first narration a wall of twinkle lights appeared as a back drop and the crowd let out an excited gasp. I don't know how to explain this. It wasn't like they just hung some lights up. It really looked like stars. Make that hundreds of thousands of stars. The band performed many songs off their first CD, "Christmas Eve and Other Stories," along with their other releases. During "Oh Holy Night," as the guitarist took a solo, the crowd cheered as the volume came up a touch. For as many instruments that were on the stage (Bob Kinkel and Mee Eun Kim on keyboards; Mark Wood String Master and a string section from the Akron Orchestra that was no less than 8 pieces; Chris Caffery and Alex Skolnick on guitar; Dave Z on bass and Jeff Plate on drums) the sound was mixed very well. It was loud, but not too loud.

During one of the most soulful versions of "Hark The Herald Angels Sing" Jay Pierce was drenched in orange and purple lights as he poured out the song onto the stage. At one point there was a long pause. As the crowd was 100% mesmerized we all just sat there waiting for the next note. Instead of singing, the singer asked, "Can you hear me Akron?" to which we all cheered as he delivered yet another powerful vocal performance (one of many during the evening).

Their light show seemed to be able to create an endless combination of shades. One minute during "A Mad Russian's Christmas" it looked as if the audience had all gone to hell as the entire room was filled with giant red spots. During the song "Christmas Eve - Sarajevo 12/24" they created a mix of Aqua and Purple. This wasn't your typical, "Red, Green, Blue, Yellow" setup. At one point they fired up a bunch of strobes. Some near the front, some near the ceiling, and some near the back of the stage. All I know is it created a wild 3D effect that was something I had never seen (and I've seen Kiss, Queen, Genesis, and Peter Gabriel).

Now I mentioned before how talented the singers were. The entire band seemed to have a virtuoso at every position. When they performed "Carol of the Bells" there was what can only be described as "Harmony Shredding" at the climax of the tune. It was pulled off note for note. Ashley Simpson - eat your heart out. Later Jeff Plate took a small, but entertaining, drum solo.

The show was more than just giant guitar riffs, and cool laser tricks. As they told the story of Christmas eve, they pointed out the foolishness of hate, war and how life is too short to partake of such nonsense. One narration that stuck in my mind stated, "Where music is played there is hope."

One of my favorite songs of the evening was neither flashy nor loud. It's called "Old City Bar" and was performed by Steve Broderick accompanied by a single acoustic guitar. It showed their versatility (they can provide the sonic boom, but can also perform lovely quiet songs). At one point in this song, the guy held a note, um, forever (it was impressive), and the crowd shouted out random "woo!s" from different sections. The song is the turning point of this part of the story and describes "Promises To Keep" that sends a daughter back to her father. "This Christmas Day" had the whole crowd cheering, since this was the happy ending we all waited for. It was a great ending, and I thought the end of the show. Boy was I wrong.

Chris Caffery (Guitarist and "Master of Ceremonies" - picture Sebastian Bach from Skid Row) spoke with the crowd during the evening. At one point he came out with a giant "Uncle Sam" hat as he stated his appreciation for the troops during this holiday season. Chris and the band seemed to be having a blast on stage. At the midway point he took time to introduce the entire band. This included Paul O'Neill (the Co-Producer with Bob Kinkel and Jon Oliva, who started the band back in 1996). Chris then did what I will call "The countdown of tours" as he asked the crowd how many people had attended all six years to scream "SIX" (a large number cheered). He then counted down to those of us (like me) who where there for the first time. I thought he was kidding when he said he was half way through the show. However, TSO was just getting warmed up.

The next few songs had me in a bit of shock. Feeling warm, cozy and filled with the message of hope and peace, James Lewis did a phenomenal "Joe Cockerish" vocal of "Christmas Nights In Blue," from the new album "The Lost Christmas Eve." Then he followed it up with a Robert Plant shriek as they performed Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song." This was the song I would cut out of the show. It really was quite a 360 and had me scratching my head. While it does have the line about "The ice and snow," I'm not really sure it fit.

That's where you have to understand that TSO is MORE than just cool heavy Christmas music. They also have NON holiday music. They performed music off their "Beethoven's Last Night" CD. This is also where I noticed TSO has a formula. It consists of this: Have some sort of arpeggio, or soft music phrase repeat, then HAMMER you with STACATTO KICKS.

Since much of their music is based on classic styling (and much the same way classical music can start to sound the same), as the band launched into their second hour of the show I was starting to think "I've heard this already" as they played "Wish Liszt." However, this soon changed.

The band had featured some awesome vocalists I haven't mentioned, including Marcus DeLoach, Danielle Landherr, and Jennifer Cella during the evening, but Tany Ling, who performed "Queen Of The Winter Night," another tune off their latest release, was hitting notes that only dogs could hear. I feared all the restored glass in the theater would shatter. She hit one of the highest, clearest notes and held it. WOW. The female vocalists wore black sequined evening gowns, and at time performed some choreography (one of which was synchronized hair flips reminiscent of old Warrant videos).

The band performed what I think was one of the highlights and most well received songs of the second half, "O Fortuna" from the Opera "Carmina Burana." You would probably recognize it as "Ozzy's Opening," as he has used it for years to start his show. This song had all the vocalists performing this beautiful and powerful piece of music. It's one thing to hear a recording of a song, it's another to see someone pull it off live. The talent on the stage was in endless supply. With all members on the stage, it was giant wall of sound. The song is supposed to be recorded for a future release.

The band whipped the crowd into a frenzy performing "Carol Of The Bells" and having the guitarist and bassist running into the crowd (and eventually the balcony I believe). They made it back to the stage just in time for the "Harmony Shredding" and a bombastic last note that lasted for a full minute, filled with dive bombing guitars and thunder drums. What I didn't understand at the time, was why much of the crowd started to leave during this song. I did shortly.

TSO ALWAYS takes time at the end of every show to meet the fans and sign autographs. So, while the band has enough talent to be as snobbish as they want to be, instead they take time to appreciate all the fans that attend their shows. The people who left early were simply getting in line for a meet and greet. All I know is next year I will be proud to shout "TWO" when they do the count down of tours during "half time."


Akron Civic Theater
Akron, OH


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