The Trans-Siberian Orchestra have been coming to New York City bringing their Holiday extravaganza to the masses, but this year, as well as 2004, they made their Big Apple stop at the famed Madison Square Garden. Sea of Tranquility's Ken Pierce and Pete Pardo were at the show on 12/19/2005 and were witness to the band's spectacular mix of holiday melodies, classical & progressive metal, lasers, lights, and overall showmanship. It was a night that won't soon be forgotten!
Read on for the complete review!
Ken Pierce: According to my ticket stubs this will be the sixth year that I have gone to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in concert and as a result I officially declare it a Holiday tradition in my life. By now the music of this amazing group is no longer a mystery to most people and songs such as the signature track of "Christmas Eve Sarajevo" can be considered a staple on mainstream radio during the holiday season. As a matter of fact, the recent years have found both "Christmas Canon Rock" and newer numbers like "Wizards In Winter" also being showcased. This is a good thing since the TSO has so much to offer such a wide audience and the more that hear them then the better it is all around. As I looked back on my year of musical coverage I could not think of a better way to close it out than to see a group that I enjoy so much and in New York City's famous Madison Square Garden as well. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra is the brainchild of Jon Oliva, Bob Kinkel and Paul O'Neill; together the three of them formed something magical that is not easily forgotten once you are caught in its spell. The scope and impact of this group on the Holiday Season led it to have two separate entities formed so proper touring could be facilitated and reach the most people as they possibly can. Given my New York location, we get the talents of the East Coast Company and since this group has my personal favored performers that suits me fine. The part that has become tricky in coverage of this performance is in deciding if one year was better than the last or if I enjoyed it more. I honestly always have a great time as do my friends and the light show seems to get more impressive as each year passes. Musically it remains the same with the beginning portion being the full presentation of Christmas Eve & Other Stories which has narration of the story from the CD. All the while the group of performers playing their hearts out. With so many fantastic numbers on this first record I am glad they have kept the format of performing it in full. I feel it is far more effective this way.
This year I felt the band was tighter in this venue. While they are on point every time I have seen them last year seemed a bit more under pressure at points. The group would be playing the Garden for the second time and I think any issues had to do with the following factors. The Garden to any New York based musician is the Mecca of all venues and it is very intimidating as you can imagine. On top of this the group suffered the loss of one of their own just weeks before the tour was to begin with the passing of Daryl Pediford. It was a loss that the whole TSO Family still feels and will not soon forget as he was an incredible Rhythm & Blues singer. Stepping into his role in the East Coast Company would be Jay Pierce who does a fantastic job and seems to have been embraced by audience and band member alike. This year also marked the return of James Robert Louis who has taken over the songs previously performed by Joe Cerisano. I really like James and the way he presents these numbers and whatever Joe is doing now I wish him the best of luck. The East Coast Company of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra holds strong at fifteen members and to not leave anyone out I will list them now for the readership. The group is made up of Bob Kinkel (keyboards), Chris Caffery (guitar), Alex Skolnick (guitar), David Z. (bass), Jeff Plate (drums), Mark Wood (violin), Mee Eun Kim (keyboards), Steve Broderick, Peter Shaw, James Robert Lewis, Jay Pierce, Jennifer Cella, Danielle Landherr, Tany Ling (all vocals) and Brian Hicks (narrator). Quite a number of people on the stage as you can see so its always exciting to see this all put together so well each and every year. TSO is joined by a number of local musicians who handle the strings and this changes at every show. I feel it is a nice thing that they let locals get a chance to perform. That must be stand out on the musical resume.
After the conclusion of Christmas Eve, Mr. Caffery comes out in his true Carnival Barker fashion and begins his brand of introductions and stand-up comedy. He always wears the local team sport jersey and admits to all that he is the biggest fair-weather sport fan there is. The audience loves him and always put up with some of his worst material with a smile. I think he tries to be a little corny on purpose sometimes. When Chris finished introducing the group they go into a few other Christmas numbers from their other releases The Lost Christmas Eve and Christmas Attic. They then treat you to some over the top music by performing numbers from Beethoven's Last Night. For awhile there was talk of "BLN" touring during the off-season of the Holiday group but it never happened. I noticed that they no longer bring this up as well. O'Neill should actually take this album to the Broadway stage and mix its excellent and dramatic story with the music as he would surely have something just as awesome if he did. There were a number of interesting moments at he show and during "Carmina Burana" Chris asked the audience to light up their cell phones and this really looked incredible. It was much better when one compares this to lighters as who ever knew the technology had such a dual purpose. I admit that I cheated because my cell had died so I used the Palm Pilot since I was jotting notes down on the show as it went along. Chris commented that New York was the most lit of all the cities so far on the tour. Lighting is of course one of the key spectacles in the show and each year this setup seems to grow and mutate into something bigger and better. There is also a great amount of pyrotechnics going on (especially during the Beethoven pieces). If you are lucky to be close enough you will feel the heat emanating from that area. Intense is the best way to describe it and as a Big Rock KISS Fan, I love when stuff like this gets used. Some of my favorite vocal highlights are when the lovely Jennifer Cella comes out. She has one of the best voices I have heard in a long time and is always stunning to see on stage. I would enjoy the chance to see her fronting another Rock band sometime in the future as this girl can really belt those notes out and when necessary has the softest whisper at her command. I also enjoy James Lewis a lot and think he is destined for some big things as well. I feel the quality of the East Coast lineup is maintained by the fact that core-creator Bob Kinkel is part of them. I think his presence brings more out of the group. The twin guitar wizardry of Skolnick and Caffery is always impressive with these guys being seasoned touring veterans who have proven their skill level in adapting to something like this. Each year they seem better and better. Creator Paul O'Neill also comes out to thank everyone and this year he would announce a special guest who would turn out to be the one and only Joan Jett. Joan then led the TSO and the entire Garden into a rousing version of "I Love Rock And Roll". The whole place was on their feet and singing.
The closer of every TSO performance is a brief section of "Sarajevo" and this always found Caffery running deep into the crowd. Needless to say the fans eat it up and since last year bassist Dave Z. has been joining him. 2005 would find TSO using a trick from the KISS handbook was used as they made their way to a riser that took them about 20 feet above the audience. It's really something that if you have not ventured out to see yet that you should try at least once in your life. I've have attended with so many newbies and find they return year after year. 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. Happy Holidays Everyone. KP.
Pete Pardo: Well, Ken really said it all here but I'll add some commentary of my own. This was my first TSO concert, so expectations were high and the band delivered on all fronts. Other than the fact that my group had fairly crappy seats, this was a stupendous show from a visual and audio perspective. After an excellent dinner at a local Italian restuarant and a few drinks, we made our way to the Garden and got to our seats a few minutes before the band went on stage. As they have done in the past, the group performs the entire Christmas Eve and Other Stories in it's entirety, complete with narration from Brian Hicks in between each song. This album is a real classic, and its mixture of memorable, soaring instrumentals with traditional and original vocal pieces makes it an especially endearing listen for rock as well as general music lovers, and something that can really be listened to all year long. Jay Pierce really slayed the audience with his interpretation of "O' Come All Ye Faithful/O Holy Night", and the dual guitar team of Chris Caffery and Alex Skolnick mixed their technical chops with the keys and strings on the stunning 'A Mad Russians Christmas" and "Christmas Eve: Sarajevo 12/24", two modern holiday classics. It also should be noted the incredible vocals of James Robert Lewis, who adds a nice hard rock touch and real grittiness to many of the tracks from this album.
The second set was made up of songs from The Lost Christmas Eve and Christmas Attic albums, as well as the Beethoven's Last Night release. Surprisingly, the pieces played from the latter came across best, and I almost wanted to hear more from that release. The great mix of rock firepower and classical majesty really added a nice twist to the otherwise holiday flavor of the evening, and the band even played a track off their upcoming album to be released this year, which sounded excellent. It's also important to mention just how effective the use of lights and lasers are during a TSO show, especially during the amazing instrumental pieces. Truly awe-inspiring! Other than a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" and their rendition with Joan Jett of "I Love Rock and Roll", this was squarely an evening of superb TSO music. If I can give one ounce of criticism, it's that I think they can probably trim 20-30 minutes off the show, as the near 3 hour show length might be a tad long for some, but there's no doubt you get your money's worth at a TSO gig, that's for sure.
Some final thoughts:
1) Mark Wood is a killer violin player (but we all knew that, right?)
2) Chris Caffery has developed a great on-stage persona, and one that really clicks with the fans
3) Caffery and Skolnick together are perhaps the best guitar team going today
4) Jay Pierce has a voice that has "star" written all over it
5) It's amazing to see young kids, parents, grandparents, and metal heads all at the same show
Guess what, I'll be going again next year. Hope to see some of you there!
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 Christmas Day
15. An Angel Returned
16. Chris Caffery Introduces the TSO
17. Christmas Nights In Blue
18. Led Zep's "Rock and Roll" and a jam unknown
19. New Instrumental (title not provided by band)
20. A Last Illusion
21. An Angels Share
22. Jeff Plate Drum Solo
24. Christmas Canon Rock
25. Carmina Burana Queen Of The Winter Night
27. Requiem (the 5th)
28. joan jett . - i love r n r
29. Sarajevo – Outro -
Trans-Siberian Hompage: www.trans-siberian.com
Photos Courtesy of the TSO Website