Sea of Tranquility writer Steve Pettengill was on hand for this excellent holiday season concert. Read on for the full review!
Plus, we now have a full review of the Dec. 27th show at Madison Square Garden in New York City thanks to Ken Pierce!
As this was my first Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert, I didn't exactly know what to expect. The vibe was certainly different from any arena rock concert I've ever been to. Perhaps it was the anticipation of the holiday season; maybe it was because of the sparkling colored vials of champagne generously handed out as one walked through the arena entry way; or maybe it was because of the family atmosphere generated by the presence of everyone from infants to senior citizens to everyone in between. No matter the reason, judging by the response the band got from 5,000 fans at a packed Verizon Wireless Arena, a TSO concert is indeed something very special.
As the house lights went down and the band's multi-tiered lighting rigs went up, the crowd roared with excitement. A spacey keyboard drone and a curtain of laser lights shot up through the darkness, before the full band was revealed and immediately launched into "Wizards of Winter" from The Lost Christmas Eve album. Then the band followed the time honored TSO tradition of performing Christmas Eve and Other Stories in its entirety. Sounding very much like James Earl Jones, narrator Bryan Hicks recited Paul O'Neill's poetry in between each song. The audience clung to every word and was absolutely silent until the band came in and rocked the place. Plumes of dry ice billowed from the stage the entire night, giving the band an otherworldly appearance. Fake snow fell from the ceiling rafters during First Snow; multi colored lasers danced in each corner of the arena, dizzying strobes and flashing lights elicited several "ooohs" and "aaahs" from the crowd; this was rock theater at its most grandiose and everyone loved it. Judging from the expressions on the performers' faces, the band was having a great time as well.
After the final notes of Christmas Eve and Other Stories died down, guitarist and emcee Chris Caffery dressed as a "redneck Santa Claus" came out to introduce each band member, including a special mention of the recently deceased and irreplaceable Daryl Pediford. The rest of the concert was considerably more loose after the understandable rigidity of performing an hour long concept album and the set list was made up of songs from more recent material, including The Lost Christmas Eve and Beethoven's Last Night. As a special preview, the audience was treated to a magnificent take on the classic "Carmina Burana" from an upcoming non-holiday TSO album to be entitled Night Castle.
Seven lead vocalists were utilized for the concert but special mention must be made of the pop diva style performance of Jennifer Cella and the Tom Waits meets Joe Cocker baritone of James Robert Lewis. Tany Ling's amazing operatic vocals of "Queen of the Winter Night" closed the main part of the program. The music, the special effects, the lasers and pyrotechnic charges all coalesced into a mighty crescendo and if one wasn't blinded by the end of the show, that person must have had his/her eyes closed!
Truth be told, this was the finest arena rock concert I've ever attended. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra could have easily hidden underneath all of the special effects, but the band was unfailingly energetic, passionate and committed to moving the entire crowd. That they give the best value for the dollar is unquestionable; I cannot imagine what their production cost must be. Consider that the band also donates a dollar of every ticket sale to charity and cheerfully signs autographs during an after show meet and greet and you have a class act all the way. If The Trans-Siberian Orchestra extravaganza comes to your town, do not miss it.
December 27, 2004, at Madison Square Garden in New York City
For several years now, I have made the music of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra a Holiday tradition. It is a show that I look forward to each time it makes it's way to New York. In the past, the scene had been the Beacon Theater but this time it would be the famous Madison Square Garden. A sold out show with just over 13,000 fans in attendance. I wanted to point out that they always start out with a donation to a charity based on $1 from every ticket sold. An admirable act and one worth mentioning. This year would hold the most visible changes for the TSO as "Diamond" Darryl Pediford had passed away just before the tour was to begin. In addition, two other male vocal leads would not be present. On the upside, this year marked the return of Alex Skolnick on guitar and Mee Eun Kim on keyboards.
The show began with the tune "Wizards In Winter'' (changed from the oft used "Boughs Of Holly"). From there Narrator Brian Hicks walks out and begins the tale of "Christmas Eve And Other Stories". I liked Brian more this year than the last, but still feel he is sometimes too powerful for parts of the story. Tim Cain had more of a warmth to the tale if you wanted a direct comparison. I did feel that using "Wizards" as the intro was a mistake. While it is a rousing number, I felt the Narration being subtle and reserved slows that momentum down. It should have been saved for later. They should have kept "Faith Noel" from the new CD "Lost Christmas Eve", as this probably flowed a little better.
The TSO will showcase close to the entire "Chistmas Eve And Other Stories" CD as the first part of the show and new singer Marcus DeLoach kicks that off. I enjoyed his voice as "Angel Came Down" is still one of my favorite numbers on the first CD. After another instrumental piece we find Jay Pierce (no relation folks) who is filling in the very big shoes of Darryl for "Prince of Peace". He was given a warm reception and did justice to the tune. On the "First Snow" instrumental, the lasers go off and fill the Garden, a really cool site. It also snows during the track, and as opposed to the Beacon shows, the snow is more over the audience in this new setting. The track has a very ELO feel and just rocks. When the group plays their signature piece of "Christmas Eve Sarajevo" the audience and group erupt in excitement. The visuals with their smoke and lighting was quite impressive. The TSO definitely give you the best possible light show, and it is impressive year after year.
Another newcomer is James Robert Lewis, who handles a couple of the other numbers. He has a nice rich voice and I think the fans that are used to Joe Cerisano (who was not present this year) will accept him with graces. I felt he fit right in, and showed no new guy signs. He also sings on the new release which is a plus. At the close of the vocal numbers, the Narrator wishes us all a Merry Christmas (though this show was 2 days after it) and he is gone. Now the midway break and intros are up.
Guitarist and Carnival Barker Chris Caffery comes out next to introduce the members of the TSO. This time he is dressed as a Redneck Cowboy Santa. The members role call in full is: Jeff Plate (drums), Alex Skolnick, Bob Kinkel, Mee Eun Kim, Dave Z, Mark Wood, Jennifer Cella, Danielle Landherr, Tany Ling (vocals), Jay Pierce, Marcus DeRoach, Steve Broderick, James Roberts (vocals) and of course Mister Caffery (guitar). At the close of the intros Chris removes the Sanata jacket to reveal his Mark Messier hockey jersey. The crowd is less than enthusiastic as the hockey strike is not making many fans of the sport happy campers. Chris reminds them that "we cant blame Mark since he brought us the Stanley Cup". He is right you know.
The group returns and plays an assortment of tracks from the other two Christmas CD's as well as their non-holiday fare of "Beethovens Last Night" and the forthcoming "Night Castle". There often is talk of a "BLN" Tour but this was not played up as much as in previous years. I expect the whole thing is proving a little too difficult to get done right and easily. Remember there are two touring companies of the TSO and they would become one core for a "BLN" show. That's almost 30 people, plus the added musicians that they use.
Chris pauses to introduce the Creator of the TSO, Paul O'Neill who comes onstage to say a few words. He gave his thanks to the players as well a to the members of the audience who enable this to get bigger and better every year. He then spoke of Darryl Pediford, who always wanted to play the Garden. The group would now do something that would never be repeated, Darryl's voice would be brought to us via a taped track while the rest of the TSO played along. The smoke filled the stage as the lights shone down on a solitary vocal microphone. It was touching and done to a perfect level of class. The song would be "Music Box Blues", and you could almost feel Darryl's presence in the venue. There were a lot of tears in the audience during this song (yes even mine….) I felt lucky as a fan and journalist to have been able to witness this special memory to their missing band mate.
A few more tunes as well as a couple from the new to be released CD follow, as well as "Christmas Canon Rock" sung by the lovely Jennifer Cella. This holiday season saw this track receiving a lot of airplay. They played a new unnamed instrumental, and while I enjoyed it, I would have rather heard one or two more of the existing ones from "Lost Christmas Eve". "Sarajevo" gets played as the outro and typically Chris will run offstage into the crowd. He runs from the very front and then made his way all the way up a couple of levels. Dave Z also ran into the audience this time around. From my vantage point it looked like he would not make it back in time, yet he did. He always seems to just catch it. Skill, or luck you will have to ask Chris himself I guess.
As far as memorabilia at the shows, the group continues to put out an excellent tourbook. Over 24 pages filled with band photos and information, as well as some stellar artwork by Greg Hildebrandt. Get this, they only charge $10 for it. This is much better than many of their industry peers and a worthwhile trinket to grab when you see them. The book does not feature the deceased member Darryl in any sort of tribute format. This was because of the book had gone to press before he passed away. I imagine next years edition might feature a page on him. We shall see. The group also generally does meet and greets where you can get the book signed and take pictures with the members. It was not done at MSG, but I think that would have been a logistical nightmare.
If you have not attended one of their shows yet, on either Coast, do yourself the favor and try it once. I am hard pressed to think you will find anything more than pure exhilaration at the end of the night. I can't wait for year seven.
The TSO Set List:
1. Wizards In Winter
2. Narrator Begins Tale Of "Christmas Eve & Other Stories"
3. An Angel Came Down
4. O' Come All Ye Faithful/O Holy Night
5. Prince Of Peace
6. First Snow
7. A Mad Russians Christmas
8. Christmas Eve: Sarajevo 12/24
9. Good King Joy
11. The First Noel
12. Old City Bar
13. Promises To Keep
14. This Chrismtas Day
15. An Angel Returned
16. Chris Caffery Introduces The TSO
17. Christmas Nights In Blue
18. Led Zep's "Immigrant Song" and a jam
19. New Instrumental (not provided by band) sure of the name)
20. A Last Illusion
21. An Angels Share
22. Jeff Plate Drum Solo
24. Christmas Canon Rock
25. Carmina Burana
26. Queen Of The Winter Night
28. Requiem (the 5th)
29. Music Box Blues (DDP Tribute)
30. Wish Liszt
31. Sarajevo – Outro
Trans-Siberian Hompage: www.trans-siberian.com