Trans-Siberian Orchestra plays at Coliseum
Holiday favorite will be at Memorial Coliseum on Friday, Nov. 18
Last year’s edition of Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s annual holiday tour was an outing unlike any other for everyone as audiences across the country were treated to visually spectacular concerts.
The band is back for another tour this year, with The Ghosts of Christmas Eve: The Best of TSO and More stopping at Memorial Coliseum on Friday, Nov. 18.
Coming off 2020, a year in which the TSO Christmas tour could not happen because of the pandemic, there was a special excitement and appreciation for being back performing the shows.
“Missing 2020 certainly made us realize how fortunate we are to do what we do,” said Jeff Plate, musical director for TSO’s eastern U.S. touring unit.
But post-2020 was also the most challenging outing, thanks to the lingering issues with COVID.
“It was riddled with anxiety, to say the least, because every morning you’d wake up and it’s like, ‘OK, is somebody sick? Did somebody test positive? What are we going to do? Is the crew there? Are the folks in the audience OK?’,” said Al Pitrelli, musical director for the western U.S. unit. “So it was definitely the most stressful tour we’ve ever been on.”
It’s not as though TSO didn’t take precautions or have contingencies in place in case any of the performers came down with the virus. As Pitrelli noted, the job is to deliver the memorable concert spectacle fans have come to expect and make sure any issues aren’t apparent to audiences.
“The audience just wants their show,” he said. “Whatever hoops we’ve got to jump through to make that happen, that’s what we’re going to do. So yeah, we had a couple of people in the bullpen. On a moment’s notice, they could fly out to a show or we would cover each other’s parts on stage. If one of the singers was sick, one of the other singers that was there would cover the song. Again, the show must go on.”
Pitrelli and Plate are hoping this year’s TSO tour will be more like the pre-pandemic outings.
Over its first two decades, TSO’s shows have become the biggest and most elaborate of the holiday tours. It was all the vision of founder Paul O’Neill, who passed away in 2017.
O’Neill’s idea was TSO would combine a rock band with an orchestra playing concept albums and rock operas with cohesive storylines. Instead of building an image around a singer, guitarist, or conductor, the ensemble would use multiple singers and a range of instrumentalists who would remain largely anonymous to listeners.
Plenty of industry people questioned whether TSO could be viable financially. Taking such a large musical group on the road would be expensive. To accommodate the visual production, TSO had to play arenas from the start, something no music act had done.
Nevertheless, Atlantic Records got on board with O’Neill’s vision and signed TSO. The label has been rewarded, as the trilogy of lyrically themed Christmas albums became hits and continue to rack up top-10 sales among holiday albums each Christmas season.
The first release was 1996’s Christmas Eve and Other Stories. Spurred by the hit single “Christmas Eve Sarajevo 12/24,” the album has sold 3 million copies and set the stage for the other two holiday rock operas that make up TSO’s Christmas trilogy, 1998’s The Christmas Attic and 2004’s The Lost Christmas Eve, which have each topped 2 million copies sold.
In addition, the group has released a Christmas EP, 2012’s Dreams of Fireflies (On A Christmas Night), and three full-length non-holiday rock operas, Beethoven’s Last Night (2000), Night Castle (2009), and Letters from the Labyrinth (2015). In all, the group’s CDs and DVDs have sold more than 12 million copies and generated 180 million streams in 2021 alone.
Bringing fan favorites
Since the first holiday tour in 1999, TSO has played to about 18 million fans and grossed $725 million.
This year’s show finds TSO performing The Ghosts of Christmas Eve, which is the 2001 concert DVD that combined the most popular songs from Christmas Eve and Other Stories and The Christmas Attic. With the DVD initially being aired on PBS stations, it has become one of TSO’s most popular releases.
The Ghosts of Christmas Eve will take up most of the first half of the show followed by a second part that draws on selections from across the TSO catalog. Because many of the most popular songs will be performed as part of The Ghosts of Christmas Eve, Pitrelli, Plate, and the musicians had room for some songs this year that haven’t often been performed on past tours.
One thing they couldn’t speak to is how this year’s visual effects and stage set will be bigger and different from last year.
“You look up, and I always feel like a 15-year-old walking into that arena for the first time,” Pitrelli said. “It really turns you back into a teenager. But this time I’m not getting chased out by security or the police, so it’s lot more fun standing there looking up and going, ‘This is awesome.’ ”