There are many ways to ring in the Holiday Season, but there are none more unique and spectacular than seeing Trans-Siberian Orchestra perform. With their Christmas Eve And Other Stories show, they represented the Christmas season in a new light. Or many lights, in this case. TSO unleashed a kaleidoscope of lasers, multi-colored lights, sparks and flames, accompanied by classical and rock fused arrangements.
West Tour 2006
By Sean Wolcott
Photos by Thomas Garner
Better yet, the crowd was
presented with more than another hour of TSO songs from previous releases, after the
traditional Christmas Eve... performance that opens the Tour every year. From youngsters to seniors, rockers to classical music fans, the audience was treated to an evening like no other.
To start the show, the band entered the stage dressed in formal attire. Guitarist/Music Director, Al Pitrelli, took center stage and, with his back to the audience, he began to conduct the musicians into the beginning of "Wizards In Winter." Instrumentals were provided by guitarist Angus Clark, bass player John Lee Middleton, drummer John O'Reilly, hammond type keyboardist Derek Wieland, piano keyboardist Jane Mangini-Pitrelli, Concert Master/lead violinist Anna Phoebe along with the Phoenix Strings, a special appearance by Tommy Farese on guitar and of course "The Man" - Al Pitrelli. With blue overhead lights to start, the band played through the song effortlessly, with Al soloing along with Derek and Jane.
At song's end, after great applause, Anthony Gaynor strode to the microphone to begin the narration of Christmas Eve. The story was a classic, and not so classic Christmas tale. For example, it began in a bar. Not the most conventional place to start a story of this
type, but this is not your conventional Holiday show. Gaynor's narration was superb, drawing the audience in with every word. Then, with a snap of his fingers, "stars" appeared on the backdrop of the stage, and remained there for the rest of the show. The band returned to the stage, along with vocalist Guy LeMonier, and broke into "An Angel Came Down," right as the
Guy's huge baritone blended perfectly with the dramatic mix of distorted guitars and dynamic strings, sounding powerful and uplifting at the same time. With just a piano outro, the song ended quietly. Right after a great crowd response, the band gave a terrific rendition of "O Come All Ye Faithful/O Holy Night". Al and Anna took center stage at first, then moved to opposite sides of the large stage. Al even played to the crowd when at the
apparent end of the song, he gave the "thumbs up" to the crowd, and then continued playing with the piano until the end. The crowd loved that exchange.
Vocalist Kelly Keeling came on to sing the next song, "Prince of Peace." With an amazing voice, a spectacular bluesy presentation and terrific stage presence, Kelly had the crowd hanging on his every note. At one break toward the end of the song he sang out, "Do you hear me Phoenix? I said, do you hear me Phoenix?" The crowd cheered their response and Kelly continued to finish the song. It was a very moving performance and this guy most definitely did the song justice.
One of the many highlights of the show was right as Anthony Gaynor said the word "snow," flakesof real snow descended from above, landing on the jaw-dropped audience. An extremely fitting beginning to the song "First Snow." Angus and Al really shined on this one, crossing from one side of the stage to the other. Anna followed suit, playing furiously while seeming to be in constant motion. At one point, the music stopped, only to start again with the guitars. The crowd began to clap along, until the end of the song.
Perhaps the most beloved classical piece around Christmas time is Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker Suite. TSO played their version of it during the songs "The Silent Nutcracker" and "A Mad Russian's Christmas." With searing guitar work and exquisite playing by Anna, these two songs really got the crowd moving. Green laser lights shot over the audience during the songs, adding to the unique vision of the piece.
If there is a signature TSO song, it's clearly "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24." It could be described as a powerful intrepretaion of "Carol of the Bells" with other carols mixed in and has been a mainstay on holiday radio and TV for years. Kristin Gorman briefly appeared center stage to play the flute, accompanied by a cello and guiar playing "God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen" at the beginning. Then, just as quickly as she arrived, Kristin slowly exited the stage, as the rest of the band kicked in to the major part of the song. The lighting changed throughout this number, from blue overheads, to green lasers and strobe effects towards the end, and massive rockets of red fire shot up behind the entire back of the stage in the middle of the song. Al and Angus played off each other as the strings and keyboards built to the massive ending which no one EVER wants to stop. The crowd cheered enthusiastically at the end, with many jumping to their feet.
TSO incorporated a "Joy to the World" theme in their next song, "Good King
Joy." After a brief intro of narration, along with piano and guitar, Kelly
Keeling returned to the stage to sing lead vocals. The bluesy feel of the
song was perfect for his voice. Throughout the song, red and white lights
flashed as Al, Angus and Anna moved from one side of the stage to the other during the
instrumental breaks. Kelly hit a sustained note that got the crowd cheering,
and then he exited the stage. The band continued to play until the end with
Al ripping of some great bluesy riffs. The crowd really got into that, and
gave a large ovation.
Tommy Farese has been playing with TSO for years, and he took center stage
for the lead vocals on the next number, "Ornament." With a red backing
light, and accompanied by piano, Farese poured his heart into the song. Once
the band kicked in, Al came to the center of the stage to join Tommy for
some harmonies. Yellow and white overhead lights illuminated the audience until
the end of the song, as Al stayed at the center of the stage for a
Another of the many great highlights of the show was the next song, "Old City
Bar." With Al sitting on a stool, holding an acoustic guitar, Bart Shatto
slowly moved to the back of the stage, dressed as an old homeless man. He
put down his bags, and looked around as Al began to play the guitar. Bart
moved up to the microphone, tapped it cautiously and exclaimed, "Whoah!" The
crowd got a good chuckle from that, as he began to sing a song, telling a touching
story of Christmas Eve in a bar. At one break in the song, bart took a swig
from a bottle that he had hidden in his tattered coat. He offered a sip to
Al, and playing the part, Al declined, but mouthed "Maybe later." Bart is another long time member of the cast and his was an amazing performance. The lighting was very simple through the number, just white spotlights. As the song ended, and Bart moved away, a heavy fog of smoke covered the stage.
Erin Henry joined the band for the next song, "Promises To Keep." Starting softly with piano, Erin's voice began to build as the rest of the band joined in. She stayed on stage for the next song, as a member of the chorus. Guy, Kelly, Bart, Erin and Kristen were joined by "Mad" Max Mann, and Steena Hernandez. Tommy took center stage once again to sing "This Christmas Day." Once the band really kicked it in, Tommy ran over the to right side of the stage to join Al, cheering on the crowd. Tommy then went back to join the rest of the singers as they sang the ending chorus "Merry Christmas, Have a Merry Christmas," and danced in synchronous movements. The crowd began to clap and sing along with the band.
For the last song of Part One, Guy returned to center stage to sing "An Angel
Returned." With green laser lights flashing on the stage, and then out over the
arena, the band cranked it up. Al hit center stage, while Anna and Angus went to opposite sides, with red and blue lighting covering the stage. As the song ended, Anthony came to the microphone for one last part of narration, bring the story to a close. As he ended, the band and vocalists waved to the crowd, holding their instruments and they received a very loud, long and well deserved standing ovation. But, the show wasn't over yet!
Tommy came to the microphone and people finally started to quiet down. "It's good to be
back in Phoenix," he said. He then broke into the band introductions, giving each member much deserved praise. In the case of Angus, it was more of good natured ribbing about his looks, and how often he spent in front of the mirror. He also mentioned this was the time when everybody got to have some fun and hear music from the other TSO albums and everybody could relax and have a good time - so on to show Part Two!
Max took the microphone and the band took it up a notch for "Christmas Nights In Blue," probably one of the coolest songs from The Lost Christms Eve, and Max did that song proud with the help of Jane Mangini on piano. Then Al kinda tapped him on the shoulder and they did some nodding and Al was off into the riffs of a Fantastic cover of the Derek and the Dominoes classic,"Layla." These guys usually head off into a portion of some rock song, but this time the played it from beginning to end and it was quite the rendition. At the end, Al strapped on a 12 sring and the band took off into a couple more unnamed rock songs that could only be a taste of what's to come from their highly anticipated new album, Night Castle. If this was any indication of how it will sound, one can only hope that Fall, 2007 release date is for real!!
Members of TSO love to go into the crowd and to give people in the back areas a
chance to see them up close. During "Queen Of The Winter Night," Kristen Gorman moved the center of the arena to sing, as the band remained on stage. Her operatic voice echoed throughout the crowd as green laser lights again illuminated the stage.
Of course Beethoven's Last Nighthad to have its turn on stage as the only non-Christmas album produced by TSO thus far. Angus Clark opened "A Last Illusion" with a little classical Beethoven played on TWO guitars at the same time. Then red lights were flashing all over the place as the full band zoomed into the "Flight Of The Bumblebee" part and took everyone for a wild ride. Anna Phoebe played her violin like there was no tomorrow and the string section was terrific. They got another workout during the song "Mozart," along with Jane and Keith. Of course the full band was involved, but when the classical turned rock songs came up it was the more classical instruments that were featured.
With a brief, but beautiful, break for "Christmas Cannon" sung by Kristen, Erin and Steena, another crowd favorite was up with the entire band and chorus on the TSO version of "carmina Burana (O, Fortuna!)." With the stage basically bathed in red light for most of the song, Carl Orff's Opera with the TSO treatment was goose-bump impressive and the audience went wild at the end.
Moving back to Beethoven's..., literally, with the song "Beethoven" the crowd was treated to another tremendous instrumental highlighting Jane's piano prowess and a lot of chugging guitars. With the first chords of "Requiem (Beethoven's 5th)" the lights emphasized each note and at the bottom chord huge balls of fire rose at the back of the stage each time it was played. Then, the band was off and running and it was an amazing performance by everyone, accompanied by lighting and lasers and fire shooting into the air and huge balls of flame shooting up on that down chord. For someone never seeing the show before, this was like Kiss, Pink Floyd and the Philharmonic rolled into one! It was also the last song of TSO part two before the obligatory Encore which Al Pitrelli immediately came back and announced that they would not make anybody wait around for - after a good 5 minute standing ovation for the whole cast prior to that. He also asked if the audience would like to see ALL the cool effects at one time and he wasn't kidding
The Encore began with a great dueling keyboard vs. piana part between Jane and Derek on "Wish Lizt" from The Lost Christmas Eve. Then the band broke into the "Toy Shop Madness" part of the song when Angus and Anna ran out into the crowd on opposite sides of the venue. They eventually ended up on a platform that rose above the crowd in the center of the arena spewing red and green smoke from the corners like rocket exhaust. The crowd, amazed by the sight, applauded and cheered as the two played furiously at the top. Meanwhile, the rest of the band played furiously on the stage.
Throughout the Encore the lighting and the effects were really put on display. Flames shot up from the back of the stage, sparks ignited, and more variations of the lights were shown to the crowd. With every section of a song, the effects and the lights became more and more elaborate. It was a true visual spectacle.
As Angus and Anna's platform descended, the band reprised "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24." What a great way to end an amazing two and a half hour performance. More snow fell onto the audience while Angus and Anna ran through the upper sections of the venue, still furiously playing. Once they returned to the stage, the band finished up with a flourish of sounds, and effects as sparks fell from the ceiling and shot up from the floor while the song came to a close. The crowd again stood and applauded with great enthusiasm. The band went to the center of the stage, bowing humbly and waving to their fans as the clapping, screaming and whistling continued, then finally left the stage to rest for the evening performance.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra puts on a great experience for any music fan. Families can enjoy the Sounds of the Season and get in the Holiday spirit. Rockers can enjoy the driving guitars and visual intensity of a classic rock concert. The players are all excellent musicians and they clearly enjoy what they do. They play off each other well and also play to the audience. This show is NOT to be missed!