Artist: Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Venue: Izod Center (East Rutherford, NJ)
Label: Lava Records
As I walked into the Izod Center for this years Trans-Siberian Orchestra show, I had to say that I felt that the time had flown by quickly from when I was doing it the last time around. I also mused to myself how this was actually going to be my tenth year supporting the group having seen them every year since 2000. That was their second tour and I had only missed the first go round of it because it came and went faster than anyone could have imagined. As a music journalist, this evening’s appearance would be my seventh show which would be documented for the masses at large and while I greatly enjoy what they do, the schedule that I keep does not permit me to be one of those fans that hit a number of shows each season. Instead of following the band around to different cities as some are apt to do, I find myself satisfied with the one show every year and this has been a tradition of mine since 2002 when I felt that this should be one of my yearly agenda items. In 2009 the TSO as they are lovingly referred to by their fans have become a massive undertaking with two separate companies hitting the cities across the nation and now a full five albums under their belt. Five you say? Well, yes I do because we found the group releasing their long awaited second non-Holiday CD “Nightcastle” only a few weeks ago. That was sure to offer up some difference to the fans tonight and here are some highlights of the performance if you somehow managed to miss out.
I’ve always been proud of my TSO fan status based on not only their music but their overall interest in being an enterprise that gives back whenever possible. For as long as I can remember them doing it, the band has put aside one dollar from every ticket sold for every single show and gives that total sum to a different charity in the region that they were performing in. Before the action began this evening we found a local radio host coming out with singer James Lewis and guitarist Chris Caffery as they presented a check for about $20,000 to Charity Begins At Home. That’s not a bad thing for the charitable outfit and I am sure that they appreciated it very much and will put the money to good use. We were attending the matinee show and that meant that an evening performance would be later and feature a second check presentation to another worthy cause. More artists should think about doing something like this and if you are sitting at home thinking “well at those ticket prices they can afford to give a little away”, be aware that TSO tickets have ALWAYS remained affordable and within peoples budgets. By doing this they have managed to get entire families in year after year. Nice work and we commend you all for these actions. Now it was time to get on with the show.
This evening would kick off with the apparent new opener of “A Night Enchanted” which is also the opening tune on the new CD “Night Castle”. It rouses people’s attention and the stage as expected was very, very big. The group did not come down from the rafters as they did last year which was cool since it didn’t duplicate the arrival and the stage setting itself was very different and utilized a tremendous number of video screens. We saw this also done with KISS back in October who had a stage that was almost entirely screens and it seems as though imitation is the greatest form of flattery as the TSO follow suit in their own fashion. The difference would be the screens would not display the group images but other graphics and effects. As soon as the opening track brought the audience into the mix it was again time for the Narrator Brian Hicks to arrive and welcome us to the now time honored tale of “Christmas Eve and Other Stories”. As anyone who knows the group or has seen them over the years will know, the entire first half of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra shows is this album in almost its entirety. The story is told by the Narrator between songs and it is really a warm story that has not lost an ounce of its magic since this whole thing began years ago. This evening marked the return of Rob Evan who many have missed the presence of and having seen him a number of times over the years I can agree that no one does the stories opening number “An Angel Came Down” quite like him. Welcome back Rob you have been missed. Johnny Lee Middleton returned to the East Coast lineup once again which gave any of the remaining Savatage fans in the audience some delight as it finds the company with three members of the long “on hiatus” group. Also returning was violinist Anna Phoebe who is absolutely fabulous on the stage. She is a very visual and energetic presence to the company and the perfect replacement for Mark Wood who had stepped down earlier in the year to pursue his own interests in music. Over the years there are certain tunes that have become my favorites from the debut album and they have pretty much remained the same so I will not line them out here for the sake of partial brevity. Of course the new screens on the stage added additional atmosphere to the presentation and for songs like “Christmas Eve: Sarajevo” we found them displaying many different national flags and this just added to the drama of the piece. All of the traditionally performed numbers from this portion of the show remained the same with the exception of “Promises To Keep” which was omitted this year. If memory serves me correctly they did do this last year but with the new material to deliver in the second half of the show they likely felt that it should be dropped. I was okay with this despite enjoying the overall power of the song, but in truth I do kind of miss the way that former member Jennifer Cella used to sing this. Perhaps the future will find her returning to the company as we found happening with Rob Evan but only time will tell on that.
Despite some minor changes in the set list, there was not much difference in terms of the musical delivery this evening. Stevie Broderick still dresses like a homeless man for “An Old City Bar” with liquor bottle and all and Danielle Landherr still runs out to the center of the arena for her tune. As usual we had some great lasers and over the top lights for the whole show while bombastic pyrotechnics brought on the heat during the group’s signature track. There was smoke and strobes as well and in the end it again left the audience with open mouths and wide eyes. This brought us to the end of the first half of the show and the “intermission” was not really enough to get any sort of refreshment or break as it only is time enough for guitarist Chris Caffery to take center stage and introduce the whole lineup. He has been doing this since the beginning and for many is reviewed as the official emcee of the festivities as result. This evening he came out sporting a NY Yankees jersey as the team had won the World Series a few months ago. He taunted the fans of the Mets by saying don’t worry we still have twenty years or so until that happens for them. Leave it to Caffery to bust chops. He would introduce the company’s founder Paul O’Neill who always appears as quite the rocker with his long hair, leather jacket and black shades and the producer was as thankful as always and expressed his sincerity to us all. He also stressed how we should make sure to remain until the very end as there was a special surprise for us that we would not soon forget. Having seen the TSO perform so many times and having enjoyed Joan Jett, Greg Lake, Roger Daltrey and Steven Tyler I could only imagine what the surprise would be this time around. Now for act two.
Chris said to us that he “believed” we would enjoy what was coming up next and after some amazing piano by new member Vitali Kurpriv we were led into “The Mountain” which is a song that the Savatage fans know for a long time as “Prelude To Madness”. The tune precedes “The Hall Of The Mountain King” on the album that bears the same name and for this one we found Caffery on a rising part of the stage while fire and brimstone bring it to a most dramatic life. If you were close enough to the stage you could feel the heat emanating from it and you would wonder how the group was handling it so well in their tuxedos. I just hoped they were flame retardant. The mood slowed just a bit as singer Tim Hockenberry took to the stage and sang “Believe” which comes from the “Streets” album by Savatage. Fans should know that these two numbers are on the new “Nightcastle” CD in a slightly reworked fashion. They are very, very close to the original tracks and only offer some slight difference in the end. In my humble opinion I am happy to see them finding new life with the new material. A few other numbers from the new CD were delivered as well as some staple tracks from “Beethoven’s Last Night” and I had to say that I have not grown tired of these since they are so lively and powerful. “O Fortuna” from “Carmina Burana” was a little more memorable this time around and was a veritable inferno when they were doing it. As they got to the “Beethoven” track itself I knew we were getting ready to close out for the night and that made sense since they were on for about two hours already. Now it was time for the surprise.
Once again we found Paul O’Neill coming on to the stage and he thanked us one more time and mentioned we should watch out for the TSO Spring Tour and “Gutter Ballet” on Broadway but now to please welcome a musical legend to the stage Mr. Joe Walsh. This was an interesting guest to me as I have long been a fan of his work in The Eagles and was more of a casual fan of his solo career. The audience of course loved having him up there as he began to deliver “Life’s Been Good” with the power of the TSO behind him. I will admit that it’s very different with that much horsepower in its engine. He shared guitar riffs with Caffery and Skolnick which I am sure made special memories for them as well and then swapped guitars to deliver “Rocky Mountain Way”. It sounded great and the musician clearly still has what it takes to entertain the masses even at sixty three years of age. As soon as the second tune with the guest finished Caffery ran out into the audience with Anna Phoebe and Middleton for the bombastic finale and reprise of some of the “Sarajevo” tune. They use risers that are set up in the back of the arena for this and go up some thirty or so feet in the air and as expected there isn’t a person sitting down in the house.
After the show closed with its grand finale the audience was once again breathless at the display that they had just enjoyed for the past two and a half hours and this time around they would not be pining the fact that it will be another year until they see the TSO in concert again. You see in 2010 the Trans-Siberian Orchestra will embark on its first ever Spring tour and perform the entire “Beethoven’s Last Night” CD along with other selections from its non-holiday companion “Night Castle”. It will be done in smaller venues than these arena shows so probably not as much in the way of fireworks and shooting flames when it comes down to the visual aspect and I had to say that I was super curious about how this would work out for the enterprise. One will hope that it is met with the seal of approval and stands apart from just something that one does around the holidays. It could work of course as anything done to the best of its ability has a chance and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra has a major fan base. I’m also interested in seeing what development comes from the proposal of “Gutter Ballet” as a Broadway show. Given the success of “Tommy” by The Who, it just might work.
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra East Coast Company: Chris Caffery (guitar), Alex Skolnick (guitar), Jeff Plate (drums), Johnny Lee Middleton (bass), Bob Kinkel (keyboards), Luci Butler (keyboards), Anna Phoebe (violin), Vitali Kurpriv (piano), Steve Broderick (vocals), Alexa Goddard (vocals), Jodi Katz (vocals), Valentina Porter (vocals), James Lewis (vocals), Danielle Landherr (vocals), Rob Evan (vocals), Tim Hockenberry (vocals), Jay Pierce (vocals), & Brian Hicks (narrator).
The TSO Set List:
1. A Night Enchanted
2. Narration Begins for “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. Old City Bar
12. This Christmas Day
13. An Angel Returned
14. Band Intros by Chris Caffery
16. Moonlight and Madness
17. The Mountain (aka “Prelude To Madness”)
19. Queen Of The Winter Night
20. Siberian Sleigh Ride – Angel Share
21. Drum Solo
22. Wizards In Winter
24. Christmas Canon Rock
26. Carmina Burana
28. Life’s Been Good
29. Rocky Mountain Way
30. Sarajevo – Outro
Here’s a few photographs of this amazing annual spectacle.
Official Website: http://www.trans-siberian.com