NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 13, 2012

A Seasonal Spectacle

Trans-Siberian Orchestra changes sets with message from 'Lost Christmas Eve'

By L. Kent Wolgamott
Correspondent

---- — The Trans-Siberian Orchestra once again will provide a soundtrack for the holidays, bringing its combination rock band/orchestra show to stages in the wider region.

Having toured for the holidays since 1999, the orchestra is changing things up for fans this season. Rather than the traditional show that makes the 1996 album “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” the centerpiece, TSO founder, leader and composer Paul O’Neill says the new format will bring the performance freshness while telling an important story.

“We decided this year to switch to ‘The Last Christmas Eve’ (the third album in the Trans-Siberian Orchestra trilogy of holiday CDs), because I thought it would resonate better,” said O’Neill. “When I wrote it in 2004, I didn’t know how well it would fit after the crash of 2008.”

The main character in “The Lost Christmas Eve” is a billionaire banker. Forty years earlier, he abandoned his infant son because the boy was unhealthy. Rich but miserable, he bumps into a small child who asks him if he has children. The question triggers waves of regret and starts him on a search for the now-grown baby he turned over to the state years before.

After interventions by an angel and a search that leads him to a hospital where crack babies are cared for and a single-room occupancy building in the Bronx, the man finds his son. And he discovers that, while relatively poor, the son is happy.

“Little by little, he makes a transition; finds the miracle and the meaning. And there’s a happy ending,” O’Neill said. “Because, like all of my shows, if you want sad, read the newspaper. There’s too much Frank Capra in me.”

“The Lost Christmas Eve” will make up the first set of the evening for Trans-Siberian Orchestra. In the second set, the band will perform a mix of songs from its other albums, with, of course, a Christmas emphasis.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s 80-plus member troupe splits into two groups for the Christmas tour, allowing the production to play two cities a night through the holiday season. The shows, O’Neill said, are identical and top-flight, with elaborate effects that incorporate lights, lasers, fog and pyrotechnics.

“Anything that fits,” O’Neill said.

While he’s not a big fan of the changes the digital revolution has brought to the record industry, O’Neill admits that TSO’s acclaimed live shows are better as a result of technology.

“There are 30,000 lighting changes in the show, some of them coming in seconds,” he said. “We couldn’t do that without computers. Sometimes I’m surprised we can do them with computers. But we do. We want to have the top production out there. We spare no expenses to do that.”

That said, O’Neill’s philosophy always has been to keeps its ticket prices low. On the 2012 winter tour, tickets range from $25 to $75 to see the lavish production. That’s far less than the going rate for similar concerts, he said.

“What’s the point of having the greatest rock production in the world if only corporations, the wealthy or the insiders are going to see it?,” O’Neill asked. “I want it so the kid that’s raking the leaves has the same chance of getting tickets as Bill Gates.”

Those who buy online tickets for “The Last Christmas Eve” show also get a digital download of “Dreams of Fireflies (On A Christmas Night),” a five-song EP TSO released Oct. 30.

“It was our way of saying thank-you to the fans,” O’Neill said. “In the stores or online, it’s $5 or less if you buy it. That’s less than the minimum wage. That’s painless. It’s a little gem anybody can afford.”

O’Neill put together the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in the mid-’90s. Over the years, dozens of vocalists, guitarists, bassists, drummers, keyboard players and violinists have been part of the group. The group has turned out to be a great training ground for musical talent.

“This is our 14th year of touring,” he said. “One of the rewarding things for me to see is to watch some of these kids — and they’ve been kids — blossom and grow as great musicians. Sometimes they stay for years; sometimes they move on. But we see them grow, we see them come together. That’s what makes this something special, something different than most bands.

O’Neill combines elements of classical, orchestral and even a little bit of Broadway into the troupe’s hard-rock based music. The shorthand label that gets attached to TSO’s music is progressive rock. That’s just fine with O’Neill.

“Progressive rock is the ultimate form of music,” O’Neill said. “Progressive rock has no limits. It’s built into the name. Trans-Siberian Orchestra was built to live and breathe and creatively bring in new members and new sounds. That was back in the ’90s. It’s even more important now. You can’t let it die.”

That said, O’Neill realizes that he’s pulled off a never-to-be repeated success with TSO.

“Trans-Siberian Orchestra had two mind-bogglingly lucky breaks I wasn’t aware of at the time,” he said. “I think we were the last band to have old-fashioned blank check artistic development. We put out our first record in 1996. It didn’t sell in 1997. But we got to put out another record in 1998. In 1999, we started to tour and things started to take off. Today, we’d never get to make that second record. If TSO came out in 2006 rather than 1996, I know we would have been dropped.

“Then we were able to do what we wanted with our live show. We’re the first band never to have an opening and the first band to never be an opening act. That won’t ever happen again either.”

If You Go What: The Trans-Siberian Orchestra. When: 7:30 p.m., Dec. 19 Where: Dunkin Donuts Center, One LaSalle Square, Providence How: Tickets are $ 64.45, $84.90 (including fees). Call 401-331-6700 or visit www.dunkindonutscenter.com/index.html. AND When: 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Dec. 23. Where: TD Garden, 100 Legends Way, Boston. Tickets: $84.85, $46 (including fees). For information call 800-653-8000 (Ticketmaster) or visit www.tdbanknorthgarden.com/