TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA: Austin, Texas, Concert Review

[Cover photo by Mark Weiss]

The travelling Christmas mega-show that Trans-Siberian Orchestra thrills audiences nationwide with each year rolled into Austin, Texas, early in December (7th). As with each performance, the Moody Center arena was packed with anticipation for a spectacular show. What’s amazing is that they’ve been doing this for 24 years now. While the performers are world class par excellence, I had to wonder if it would somehow seem too familiar.

Fortunately, it was obvious that this year’s tour would feel fresh and new from almost the get-go. This point was visually and dramatically made by the fast-moving collage of familiar imagery (the brick house, the approach to a cavernous building, a large storybook). It was like a “welcome back” moment for those that have seen TSO before, but it quickly transitioned into new graphics.

The giant band (could be referred to as a musical team) started with “Fate,” then “Prometheus” and then “The Lost Christmas Eve.”

Photo by Jason McEachern

Instead of a homesick girl outside an old city bar, whose bartender took all the cash from its drawer to send to her family’s home (Christmas Eve and Other Stories), this one involved another young girl – a runaway – who takes refuge in from the cold night in an abandoned building. Images of a grand old theater revealed that this show’s story would be from the made-for-television film, Ghosts of Christmas Eve.

I came into this show with no expectations and no prior research, so it was indeed a fresh version of TSO. The graphics were super high-resolution and stellar. Of course, all the other bells and whistles one sees at one of their shows was present and in full swing – lasers, fog, artificial snow, hydraulic stage risers, flames of fire, and intelli-beams. This tour is officially billed as The Ghosts of Christmas Eve: The Best of TSO and More.

“O Come All Ye Faithful / O Holy Night” set the tone or mood to a higher, albeit spiritual level, which is one of the joys of this touring show. It’s unapologetic about honoring the Christ child, born the King of Kings. By not trying to make it appeal to a modern or secular audience, it’s treated as a story and retains its full power. It’s refreshing and profound.

Photo by Jason McEachern

“Good King Joy,” “Christmas Dreams” and “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24),” the Savatage cover, kept the energy and entertainment flowing. Like a promenade, the music sweeps the listener along, while giving the audience plenty to look at. Each performer is jamming with precision, speed, and feeling. Sometimes no to little narration is needed. Of course, when a little kitten is dropped inside from a cracked door, you can hear an audible, “Awww” from the audience.

The variety of musical language spoken during this concert is amazing. There are no apologies or warnings given about the full-on heavy metal guitar onslaught that is heard throughout the night, and the guitar tones are sweet and to die for. The orchestral pieces accompanied by the Texas string section are so beautiful, melodic, and high brow enough to almost require formal attire for all attendees. Then there’s the singers – both male and female – that take center stage with solos and meld together as one for powerful vocal moments. When it comes to the blues, it’s hard for me not to wonder if the TSO West team always demands and claims Austin to be on its itinerary. Guitarist Al Pitrelli has a casual air about him as he and Angus Clark trade blues licks. It’s almost as if he is aware that he is playing in the shadows of the late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan. It could just be my imagination, but I can’t help but think that this is on his mind and many in the audience as he tries to one-up his guitar mate at center stage.

Photo by Mark Weiss

The show flies by, because we’re all having fun – everyone in the arena and everyone on stage. Your head needs to stay on a swivel, because guitarists and violinists will appear on risers in the back of the arena, as does more fire and laser lights.

Photo by Andrew Rios

The second half of the show starts after the narrator bows and the team plays hits from the TSO canon. We were privileged to hear “A Mad Russian’s Christmas,” “Wizards in Winter,” “The Snow Came Down,” and “Requiem (The Fifth),” which are all huge crowd pleasers. I missed not hearing “Carmina Burana” for the first time in years, but I would gladly have traded it for hearing the rarely-seen (at least by me) performances of The Ghosts of Christmas Eve.

And that, once again, was my biggest take-away from the night: I came expecting more of the same, possibly an exact replica of last year’s show, but what I saw was totally fresh, new, and breath-taking. Excellence in performance can, ironically, only take you so far in delivering something new or better to the audience. Trans-Siberian Orchestra out-did themselves – again. Amazing.

“Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24) (Reprise)” was the final offering and an almost three-hour show was over. Bravo!

Photo by Jason McEachern

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