It is that time of the year again – the hustle and bustle of the Christmas (or Hannukah, or whatever holiday you might be celebrating) season, the consumerism, the “I’ve got to get this done!” feeling that everyone gets in December.
As they have done for some time (“This is either the eighteenth or nineteenth year we’ve performed in this building,” noted founder/guitarist Al Pitrelli during the show), the progressive rock band Trans-Siberian Orchestra made its seasonal stop in the backyard of many of its performers, Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL.
In doing one of their shows in its entirety and mixing in some of the legendary group’s greatest hits, TSO brought a great deal of Christmas cheer to an appreciative holiday crowd.
“The Ghosts of Christmas Present” Still Greatly Satisfying
Founded by the late Paul O’Neill in 1996, the original Trans-Siberian Orchestra combined a full orchestra and members of the progressive metal band Savatage into a progressive hard rock sound that was unique in its quality and excellence. They struck gold with their first album, Christmas Eve and Other Stories, which contained the now-Christmas staple “Christmas Eve, Sarajevo.” That was the first of the Christmas Trilogy albums, which also led to a 1999 made-for-television film called The Ghosts of Christmas Present.
After the passing of O’Neill in 2017, TSO decided to continue in the spirit of his work by performing every holiday season across the United States. This is what brought the band to Tampa, FL, although the band members seemingly all had a link in one manner or another (many used to live in the Gulf Coast Florida area). Perhaps it was the homecoming crowd, but it seemed that all the performers – from the orchestra, to the musicians, to the vocalists – brought a special magic to their game.
With narration done by the incomparable Phillip Brandon, the individual performers each brought their special touches to The Ghosts of Christmas Present, which was being performed in public for the first time since 2018. Fellow guitarist Angus Clark traded lead guitar licks with Pitrelli easily, which orchestra leader/violinist Asha Mevlana was stunning with her performance. Jeff Scott Soto, who has one of the most sterling voices in music even today, stepped up to blow the crowd away, while several female vocalists, including Rosa Laricchiuta, April Berry, Chloe Lowery, and Jodi Katz, mesmerized the audience with their crystal-clear singing.
Even though the throng of listeners might have heard the story of The Ghosts of Christmas Present – about a runaway who is looking to return home – there were many eyes in the arena that were leaking as the musicians and singers performed. The entirety of the band brought the made-for-television movie from the last year of the 20th century to life, and their performances were truly magical. If there was anyone who finished The Ghosts of Christmas Present not in the Holiday Spirit, then they must be a relative of Ebenezer Scrooge.
“The Best of TSO” Demonstrates Versatility of Band
Although they are most known for that Christmas Trilogy, Trans-Siberian Orchestra has a well-rounded catalog of material, which they demonstrated in the second half of their more than 140-minute show. The band performed material from Savatage, including a roof-raising performance of “This Isn’t What We Meant” performed by Plush vocalist/guitarist Moriah Formica, and touched on other tunes considered holiday classics. Of note was “A Mad Russian’s Christmas,” bringing a Nutcracker-esque feel to the festivities, and Berry brought something to the rear of Amalie Arena by performing “Queen of the Winter Night/Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night)” in a human-sized snow globe that she was encased in. There was also the frenetic “Wizards of Winter,” which wowed the crowd.
But the most surprising, and well-done, tune from TSO was their take on the cantata Carmina Burana. Based on 12th-century poetry, the song was a thunderous and stirring rendition that kept the audience enthralled. The show ended with a reprise of “Christmas Eve, Sarajevo,” appropriate in this time of strife in Ukraine (the original tune was a lament on the destruction of Sarajevo, the former Yugoslavia, during the siege of the city during a civil war in the early Nineties).
Whether it is your first time seeing Trans-Siberian Orchestra or you have seen them before (“repeat offenders” as Pitrelli called them), you are in for a treat. They have a few dates left on their calendar before it turns to 2024, so if you have a chance to catch the show, you will be well entertained by this holiday staple.