Artist: Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Venue: Izod Center (East Rutherford, NJ)
Label: Lava Records
I cant be the only Metal head who feels as though 2008 went by like a rocket and yet here we are at the annual gathering held by The Trans-Siberian Orchestra which in most cases comes off as my final show of the musical year in terms of coverage. Of course this will not be the case this year as we are only in the second week of the month and according to my records there are still a couple of things to investigate for the Metal legions. If am recalling this correctly, tonight will be my sixth year supporting the bands live concerts and for me it never, ever gets old based on the manner in which they deliver it, and how they always seem to pull out the surprises and the stops for their always growing fan base. Similar to last year, I had opted for the matinee show this time around because I wanted to be home early for a change and since the afternoon show would mirror the later performance there was really no risk at missing anything that I would kick myself in the head about the next day. Having seen the group a number of times in the past I can easily repeat my own words by describing every minute detail but this time I will not even bother and that would be smart based on a couple of the amazing differences that this tour would offer in terms of the music and the membership roster. This year we would still find the presence of Chris Caffery and Alex Skolnick on lead guitar but gone from the East Coast company lineup for these shows would be Mark Wood, their violinist. The musician would be joining the West Coast company this time around and in his place would be Anna-Phoebe McElliott who I had heard some really cool things about. The bass duties once held by Dave Z. had been replaced by Chris Altenhoff who I had assumed would be in place this evening as well. As the Narrator came out to introduce the nights festivities the bands newest song “A Night Enchanted” began and while some of the members were already on stage, there was no Chris, Alex, or Phoebe or the bassist……suddenly with a page torn out of the KISS playbook three platforms began to descend from the rafters and on them with smoke billowing out was Chris Caffery, Alex Skolnick, Anna-Phoebe and a face I was amazed and surprised to see, the one and only Johnny Lee Middleton. Yes, a full four members of Savatage live and in your face for the East Coast Company and while I always loved what Dave Z. did, I will take Johnny Lee Middleton over him any day when it comes to having these guys together onstage again. What an opener.
The Narrator returned and took the audience of the very crowded Izod Center into the story of “Christmas Even and Other Stories” as they usually do and this is pretty much the same thing every year down to the songs and order that they are performed in. As this progressed I realized that we were missing Me-Eun Kim who plays keyboards and in her place was Lucy Butler who was doing a fine job. There was also a second violinist in Bobby Chong and he was very entertaining as there were parts of the show were he would duel and perform string acrobatics with McElliott. They would toss each others bows back and forth and not miss a note during the process. It was very cool in the visual sense and I am sure that everyone enjoyed witnessing it. The changes in the roster continued to be observed as I noticed that Jennifer Cella was not around either, and was apparently taking the season off. Well, she worked hard for so many of them I will allow her the breather and I am sure that her fans while disappointed initially are in agreement about it being deserved. We did get the lovely Adrienne Warren, Valentina Porter and Alexa Goddard joining in with the resident Danielle Landherr. There is really something timeless in the whole tale that they tell in song for this part of the show and it seems to draw more and more people back as it pushes forward into musical history.
After the band introductions by Chris who came out with several sport jerseys which he kept taking off to reveal the next one as he offered up his usual corny jokes, we met up with the creator Mr. Paul O’Neill who advised us about surprises that were going to be remembered forever tonight. I believe him because the last time he said that the band introduced Roger Daltry of The Who and when he came out we were treated to three songs by him and the TSO which was nothing less than mind-blowing. The start of the surprises came when the orchestra started the melodies of “Prelude To Madness” which is actually the Savatage version of the classical composition by Grieg and called “Hall Of The Mountain King”. In Savatage history, the prelude leads into the bands composition “HOTMK” on the album that bears the same name. There was fire all over the stage while this was being played and the audience was insane for it and as it closed out to its crescendo we found singer Tim Hockenberry center stage who began to sing “Believe”, a major song from the Savatage album “Streets”. In all the years that I have seen the TSO perform, I have never heard them do numbers from Tage outside of the “Christmas Eve Sarajevo” which essentially was adopted by the TSO when they first formed the idea. To make this moment all the more special, the entire segment was dedicated to the memory of guitarist Criss Oliva who had formed Savatage with his brother Jon back in 1978. Criss was killed in 1993 and one can hardly believe that fifteen years had already gone by. Some more music from the “Beethoven’s Last Night” CD was delivered and a couple of other holiday numbers but nothing could take my mind off of their delivery of classic Savatage. This was a great move on the bands part and could these tunes been the surprise that O’Neill was speaking of? Apparently not because once again the founder of the enterprise was back onstage for the introduction of Steven Tyler of Aerosmith. Wow, this one I never expected and as I looked around the seats of the Izod Center there was people on their feet as far as the eyes could see. Together they would play “Sweet Emotion” and I don’t think that there was a person in the arena who wasn’t singing along with them. “Dream On” was powerful and followed this number and it would lead us into the finale and reprise of “Christmas Eve Sarajevo” which still finds Chris running out into the crowd to a center of the floor riser. This time he had company and it just made the whole thing all the more exciting. Whew, this was almost three hours of straight music and an amazing light show. They outdid the previous year which had in turn outdid the year before it. Every time I leave one of their shows I am left wondering how they will possibly top this one, and that would not change for me at all this evening.
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 as has been reported, but if they don’t I am sure that I will not lose any sleep over it. We are told that the new non-holiday CD is being readied for audience consumption so watch out for “Night Castle”. Be sure to try and also get yourself a copy of “The Christmas Trilogy” boxed set if you are in need of catch up and should it interest you a little more, please follow some of these players’ solo efforts. You will not be disappointed as they are all involved in some really cool stuff when they are not touring with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. See you next holiday season friends.
The Players of The Trans-Siberian Orchestra East Coast: Chris Caffery (guitar), Alex Skolnick (guitar), Jeff Plate (drums), Johnny Lee Middleton (bass), Bob Kinkel (keyboards), Lucy Butler (keyboards), Anna Phoebe (violin), Boddy Chong (violinist), Steve Broderick (vocals), Alexa Goddard (vocals), Adrienne Warren (vocals), Valentina Porter (vocals), James Robert Lewis (vocals), Danielle Landherr (vocals), Jamey Garner (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. Promises To Keep
13. This Christmas Day
14. An Angel Returned
15. Band Intros by Chris Caffery
16. Wizards In Winter
17. Queen Of The Winter Night
18. Prelude To Madness
20. A Last Illusion
21. Siberian Sleigh Ride
22. Jeff Plate Drum Solo
24. Wish Liszt
26. Christmas Canon Rock
27. Carmina Burana
29. Sweet Emotion
30. Dream On
31. Sarajevo – Outro
Official Website: http://www.trans-siberian.com