My yearly tradition of attending one of the area Trans-Siberian Orchestra concerts would continue in 2007 as I made my first trip to the Izod Center in East Rutherford, NJ. Alright, this was NOT REALLY my first trip to the place as I have honestly been here dozens of times over the years, but for those who were not aware of this, "Izod Center" is the new name for the arena formerly known as the Continental Airlines Arena in the Meadowlands and going even further back was once called The Brendan Byrne Arena. This change must have happened recently as I swear I was only here a few months ago when it was still the Continental. No worry for the fans of the arena as nothing else appears to have changed which to me is always a good thing. I really like this arena and have seen a number of great shows here over the years that I have been going to concerts. To the best of my knowledge I was here for KISS, W.A.S.P., Motley Crue, Triumph, Deep Purple and Van Halen being a choice few of them. Today my bands witnessed at the building would increase by one more increment as The Trans-Siberian Orchestra did their thing. When it comes to this group, I have been lucky enough to see them from many different vantage points over the years and that is pretty cool when one considers how much their show actually involves. I have been up as high as the rafters and off to the various sides and there were even times when I’ve been lucky enough to be on the orchestra level of the floor somewhere as the band projected right out to us straight on. Each time I managed to grab something unique and special to me about the show. Tonight would be one of those lucky floor nights for a change and as I glanced about the massive lighting rigs that they brought with them this time I admitted to feeling a slight twinge of hesitation. It was like some giant space age colossus. Those who have seen the orchestra perform in the past know very well that they are not only big in sound but also quite large in the visual sense as well as they bring along some of the best lighting and effects in show business today. I find that with each passing year that this aspect of The Trans-Siberian Orchestra show seems to get more and more involved and with my support of this endeavor since its second year on the road, I find it fascinating to observe as time goes on. The earlier shows didn’t have all that much to them besides a couple of cool but smaller lighting rigs and smoke machines. Today they bring out just about everything that you can think of and it all comes into play very well during the show. As the announcement began to bring them out I felt that familiar feeling of excitement hit me that I always get before the group comes on and it would soon be time to Rock. This was also the first time in a number of years that I was catching the matinee performance so it had a very early afternoon start to it and a whole lot of families were in the audience with their little ones. Doing this is a great idea as it allows the parents of the younger children who cant always get to an evening event the chance to not only rock out but to also expose their children to some truly wonderful music. Once this show ended the group would get about a two hour break and then come back out to do it once again for an evening performance. Talk about a loaded schedule and needing to be on your best game. Suddenly the lights went down and the show was about to begin.
The orchestra arrives onstage to the song “March Of The Kings”, and this is a number that they have kept in the lead spot for a few years as opposed to the original opener of “Boughs Of Holly” and as time went on “Wizards In Winter”. “Boughs” seems to have been dropped from the set entirely as it’s been awhile since I can say that I last saw it done. Since “March” has some similar melodies to it I am sure the audience doesn’t all that much. “Wizards” has been moved deeper into the performance as it’s become one of the more popular tunes from the last Christmas CD they did and that was a smart move. From the opener it was just as expected and continued along with the narration of the story that makes up the blockbuster album “Christmas Eve and Other Stories”. It’s been led off by the bands Narrator, Brian Hicks who has been in this role the longest now for the East Coast Company. Having jotted down the previous years set and activities for convenience sake of doing the new review I noticed that tonight (or this afternoon), it was pretty close to the same as that which was delivered last year. Of course the first half is always the “Christmas Eve” album but I admit to some surprise that the larger portion of the second half being the same as well. The only real noticeable change was in a couple of the key players performing tonight. Returning was Peter Shaw but gone was Tany Ling and most surprising of all would be long time bassist David Z. choosing to focus on other musical pursuits and leave the duties up to new member Chris Altenhoff. From afar you probably couldn’t have told the difference since Chris seemed to be moving to the music in the same fashion as Dave Z. did, and he also sported a similar hair style. Perhaps it was a coincidence, but one can never tell in Rock & Roll shows these days. The lights this evening seemed to be like a living and breathing thing and they moved not unlike something we found in the summer blockbuster movie The Transformers. I never think that they can get bigger or better each year but somehow the masterminds behind the show manage to prove me wrong. The music was as always quite exhilarating and it really is one of the most moving performances that a person can see around the holidays. I had heard a couple of rumors about this years go round and the first was that a DVD filming was being done and the other was that this would be the last full presentation of the “Christmas Eve” album, and starting next year they would change this around a little more to keep it interesting. Of course I cannot confirm any of these and will just wait with as much anticipation as you readers. After the first part of the show had completed we got to hear from the emcee Chris Caffery and our vantage point tonight allowed us to see some of the new sweet guitars he was using. It also allowed us to see just how much fun that Alex, Mark Wood and he seem to have during the show. How can it be any less with such a stage and that many great performers in one place? Wood was again playing his neon viper at one point in the show, and that is one hell of an instrument, and it seems as though more rock-oriented violin players are digging the wares that his company is delivering these days. Chris would introduce the show’s main man behind it all, Mr. Paul O'Neill and I’m not sure if he gets to say hello at every single show that they do, but I have to say he has managed to be at every New York area event that I attended. O’Neill always seems pleased with the audience reception of the TSO and instructed us this evening that we would hate ourselves in the morning if we left before the show was over. Given this was the matinee; I didn’t see too many people rushing off for their train.
The second half featured many of the songs from the last year’s performance and they of course feature tracks from the “Beethoven’s Last Night”, “Christmas Attic” and “The Lost Christmas Eve” albums. The show is almost three hours long and really gives the audience a lot for their money so very few can find anything to complain about once it is over. I did notice that the players who weren’t as active in previous years were much more active as far as the stage went. Jay Pierce for instance was running around during the more energetic tunes. Tonight they would deliver a great rendition of “Proud Mary”, the classic Ike and Tina Turner number perhaps in homage to Ike who had passed away only a couple of week prior to the show tonight. They would do their kick ass and still unnamed new song from the sometime to be released “Night Castle” CD, and Chris joked about when we would actually see it delivered to the public. Alex Skolnick continues to impress on guitar and shows just how talented he is as he delivers a mix of Rock meets Jazz with a taste of Metal tossed in. Many know that Skolnick will be a part of the new Testament album and tour and it’s most certain that this will be a great Metal event for all who have interest in that. Once again the lovely Jennifer Cella got some solo vocal time and again she and Heather Gunn ran out into the crowd to perform on a platform that is in the middle of the floor seating area. As the show drew closer to a close Paul came back out to speak about what was going to happen next and for those of you who have seen the group over the last couple of years, you will remember well that they have had guest performers come up and play with them. I have seen Joan Jett perform “I Love Rock And Roll” a couple of times and it really sounded great, while last years show found Greg Lake performing “Karn Evil 9” with them. I found that it would be a hard number to top until I heard rumbling of who the guest was this evening and when O’Neill announced that it was legendary Who singer Roger Daltry I thought the roof of the arena was going to cave in. Daltry is one of the most respected Rock singers in music history and hearing them begin the notes of “Behind Blue Eyes” was one of the most exciting moments I had ever felt at a concert. The song was a thrilling piece and you could feel the energy in the whole place as fists were tossed into the air and the smiles were as far as the eye could see. It became clear immediately as the number ended that it would not be the only song done by the performer and that was fine by me as they broke into “Pinball Wizard”. Towards the end of the song we were treated to the singer spinning his microphone as he always did and with each go round the audience was responding in kind by being louder and louder. The sad part about a guest appearance is knowing that the show is soon going to be over and as Daltry sang the beginnings of “See Me Feel Me/Listening To You” I knew we were headed there soon. This track is the powerful closer to what appears to be the first Rock Opera ever recorded so it was simply perfect that it be done tonight by Daltry with the orchestra. From there it went into the reprise of a portion of “Christmas Eve Sarajevo” and there wasn’t a person sitting down when Caffery and now Altenhoff ran out into the crowd to reach the rising platform in the rear of the arena. It’s a great and climatic end to the show and of course very KISS-like, but it does work even for the world’s greatest holiday show that the Rocker demographic can see.
As always I had a great time, and even with song repetition never seem to be any less excited about the show. I am interested in seeing if they do indeed switch it up for next year but if they don’t I am sure that I will not lose any sleep over it. Get yourself a copy of “The Christmas Trilogy” boxed set if you are in need of catch up and should it interest you follow some of these players solo efforts. You will not be disappointed. See you next holiday season friends.
The Players: Chris Caffery (guitar), Alex Skolnick (guitar), Jeff Plate (drums), Chris Altenhoff (bass), Bob Kinkel (keyboards), Mee Eun Kim (keyboards), Mark Wood (violin), Jennifer Cella (vocals), Steve Broderick (vocals), Alexa Goddard (vocals), Heather Gunn (vocals), James Robert Lewis (vocals), Danielle Landherr (vocals), Peter Shaw (vocals), Jay Pierce (vocals), & Brian Hicks (narrator).
Official Web Site: www.trans-siberian.com
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