Thursday, December 14, 2006

Twas The Concert Before Christmas ...

Where do I begin. Well for those who are unfamiliar with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, let me fill you in. TSO is the brainchild of Paul O'Neill with Robert Kinkel and Savatage's Jon Oliva as partners in composing and producing. To go back, Paul and Robert were involved early on in Savatage' career (Paul a producer and Robert a studio keyboardist) both brought in around the "Hall Of The Mountain King" era and moved Savatage into a new direction. "Prelude To Madness" is a precursor to the classical music transposing that would be the core of TSO with a brilliant metal onslaught of Edvard Grieg's "Hall Of The Mountain King". It would be years before TSO was established.

I remember as a young metal head right into Savatage and unlike a lot of what I heard of old 'Tage fans I loved the new concept power metal albums they were making (Streets, Dead Winter Dead, and Poets And Madmen). As I browsed the detailed Savatage website (though now it's pretty much unused) I kept seeing references to Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I had no idea what this was about, until I came across a TSO CD at a local HMV store (not the big one). Needless to say I picked it up and recognized Paul O'Neill's name from the Savatage albums and saw that it was Christmasy and figured I'd enjoy this and purchased it.

And did I ever. I then preceded to purchase the first album (the one I saw was their second release.) and again was blown away. The music is Christmas carols transposed with electric guitars and such and creates a sort of power metal progressive sound. The carols/classical pieces tend to be instrumentals. The story of the album concept is pieced together with original tunes sung by a number of guest vocalists from all varieties of music and have a power ballad feel with some jazz and blues thrown in for balance. These are heartwarming, powerful albums that transcend genres and creates a feel good musical experience.

This also carries over into the concerts. I've now seen about 5 shows and though the presentation has gotten bigger, it was that first show that will always be dear to me. The first half of the performance is an abridged version of their first album "Christmas Eve and Other Stories" concept and is the story of a man in a bar on Christmas Eve who befriends (unknowingly to the man) and Angel who takes him on a journey around the world in search for the true meaning of Christmas. Oh sure it's a sappy story, but C'mon! It's Christmas! Over the years and with the completion of the trilogy of Christmas albums, new songs have been added to the story replacing others, but the concept is still the same. So needless to say the first half is a little repetitive, but for once a year I still enjoy the gooey feeling it stirs in me

After some short introductions and silly jokes by none other than resident TSO/Savatage guitar player Chris Caffery, the second half of the performance, where the real fun is, begins. No more story, just free reign of choice TSO songs off the Christmas albums and their one non-Christmas album "Beethoven's Last Night". The band just let's loose and has fun.

Now I've already taken too much time as is, so I'll give you the highlights of the show. The musicianship is impeccable and the vocal talent is great. As far as singers go my favourites are Jennifer Cella (the blonde) who performs "Promises To Keep" with such gusto that it stirs me to tears. She belts out the song without any silly vocal acrobatics, just sheer power. I'm reminded of Ann Wilson of Heart with a little Amy Lee from Evanescence. She also leads in "Christmas Canon Rock" which I'll talk about later. The other stand out vocalist was "Diamond" Daryl Pediford who sadly passed away in 2004. He was a little guy, but man did he have chops and I am Thankful to have seen him perform twice. He brought a raw grit to his songs and a playful passion that envelopes the room and leaves us all mesmerized. Mind you his replacement Jay Pierce has really come into his own and blew me away this year. And though I love the show, I must say that my favourite TSO song "Old City Bar" is just butchered in concert by Steve Broderick who adds vocal acrobatics when the song needs to be bare bones and heartfelt, but I've accepted that each year it will be ruined and I'm not so upset anymore.

That standouts in the music are when I first heard "Christmas Canon Rock" a few years back. The only version was the child choir and straight up piano you hear on the radio a lot these days "Christmas Canon" which is awesome, but I'll never forget when they performed the rock version as I called it, I damned near melted in my seat. Absolutely brilliant and again, Jennifer Cella's vocals were strong and powerful. It wouldn't be till fall of 2005 with the new album that I could finally listen to it whenever I wanted instead of just once a year. Although they've changed up the mix "A Last Illusion" off of "Beethoven's Last Night" was awe inspiring seen live with it's mix of "Flight Of The Bumble Bee" and "Ode To Joy". Now they switch to some other song which eludes me at this point after "Flight ..." and it just isn't the same ... ah well. And lastly on "O Come All Ye Faithful/O Holy Night" I remember anticipating the final note that is a falling sustaining note which hangs in the air and is hard to explain, but so moving that I can feel my heart swell as the note just lingers and fades. Alex Skolnick (of Testament fame the one with the gray in the hair) played it perfectly that first year I saw them, but since has flowered up the ending with some virtuoso stuff, though good, is not as passionate. Sorry one more thing. TSO also has been performing Carl Orff's "O Fortuna" from Carmina Burana the last few years which is to be on their upcoming non Christmas album "Night Castle" which is dark and heavy and purely spine chillingly brilliant. If Orff had electric guitars this is how it would have been performed. I've loved that piece for years so when they announced it coming up next I damned near crapped my pants ... Seriously ....

Special mentions to go out to the magically captivating narrator Bryan Hicks (the bald guy) whose baritone voice transcends reality and takes the audience on the same journey the man in the bar goes on with the Angel. I've also been lucky enough to have Savatage drummer Jeff Plate on our tour who blasts through a fantastic drum solo during the second half that is inspiring. And lastly soprano singer Tany Ling is brilliant to watch live singing "Queen Of The Winter Night". She's performing operatic vocals while traversing the stage with more energy than anyone else there. Such enthusiasm and talent, it's a joy to watch her perform.

OK that's enough. If you get a chance to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra live, do it. It is a glorious experience and fun and exhilarating. I'll continue watching their concerts and anticipate their "Beethoven's Last Night" tour whence "Night Castle" is finally complete.

Up next is an album that's uniquely Christmasy ...


Blogger Metal Mark said...

I am going to review The Lost Christmas Eve album on my blog next week. I need to give it another listen to see what I really think of it.

10:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so when did you start seeing them?
I started in 2001 because 2000 sold out all 7 shows in about 3 days and I found at at the end of the week

seeing Sad Tomatos review....ya I do CELTIC music in a big way ;-) I'd have figured you for a west coast person! you must be on the east coast with Chris and Crew.

Yes Darryl was absolutely PHENOMENIAL!!! Never a more nice or graceous person could you ask for...with one hell of a wicked sence of humor!....Jay does an excellent job but I never thought I'd be able to get thru King Joy again without crying my eyes out. Heck I flip the CD in and I can hear Darryl singing it and still bawl my eyes out but in Toledo I don't know what Jay did but he did it I was able to sing along and enjoy it again...Oh and when I told Jay that got one of the biggest smiles I've seen on him and a big hug :-) !!!

TSO is allot of really REALLY Great talented artists that DO GIVE A DAMN ABOUT THEIR FANS!
you couldn't ask for any better than them!

Say have you caught David Zs.....ZO2??? If not do so EXCELLENT HARD ROCK group to see

one of the Cleveland TSO ~ OST folk


ps...ya couldna found a better group here....if you want some show pix let me know...have to ask sian if they got them up in Dgroup.

12:04 AM  
Blogger DPTH International said...

Hi Gypsy-Beth,

Thanks for the comment, I got into TSO through Savatage often hearing reference to the group via the Savatage website, however I didn't hear the music until the release of the Christmas Attic, and I have been a huge fan ever since.

I'm an east coast tour and saw Daryl a couple of times. Honestly Jay Pierce was brilliant on the last tour and has really filled the shows well.

TSO are truly one the most original groups around.

10:07 AM  

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