‘Tis the Night after Christmas, hair flying, flames erupting, power-chords screaming, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra must be back in town. I’m not a progressive-rock fan but I’m a sucker for a good light show. When my friend R. mentioned she had two seats in a suite at the TU Center, I seized the opportunity to witness the visual debauchery that is TSO. Two hours and fifteen minutes later, I had filled my camera with 200 frames and heard the word “Christmas” about the same number of times. Here is glimpse of this epic rock opera.
More photos below and a few videos at the end of this post. Click on any of the thumbnails to open a larger view, or check the full-screen Flickr slideshow if you have Flash installed.
This American progressive metal band was founded in 1993 by producer, composer, and lyricist Paul O’Neill with help Jon Oliva, Al Pitrelli (of Savatage) and Robert Kinkel. Drawing inspiration from Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Queen, Yes, The Who, and Pink Floyd, they have sold more than 9 million concert tickets and over 8 million albums. I wasn’t familiar with the act but I hear they have stopped in the Capital District regularly for quite some time now, be it at the Palace Theatre, Proctors or the Times Union Center (formerly Pepsi Arena). The band’s musical style incorporates classical, orchestral, symphonic, and progressive elements into hard rock and heavy metal to spin familiar Christmas songs and a lot of originals.
In the post header, performing “Oh Come All Ye Faithful / O Holy Night”, guitarist Joel Hoekstra seen from the distance of my 200mm zoom and simultaneously taped from the front row in this video.
The cast of TSO is impressive in number — I counted about 10 different singers that night, 3 or 4 guitarists, a violinist conducting, a small set of strings, at least 2 keyboardists, a drummer, and what must have been a small army behind the scene to set up the visual effects, pyrotechnics, and moving platforms twice a day. The TSO Wikipedia page lists no less than 100 past and present performers, though I suspect this high turnaround can also be explained by the close proximity to giant flames.
In the second part of the show TSO dropped a hulking Y shaped catwalk from above, one end connecting to the stage to allow performers to climb on board before the platform rose back in the air. This spectacular move, unleashed with a barrage of lasers and pyros, gave people further down the arena a welcome look at the virtuosos up-close. It also had me secretly hope for a piece of the giant contraption to land on the V.I.P section below. Allegedly. OK, not really. Kidding. Maybe.
Above, violinist and strings conductor Roddy Chong, rocking out. I have no clue how the guy can jump in this spectacular photo and play at the same time but if you have any doubt, here he is running all around the stage like a Tasmanian devil in this video from the front row. If Tasmanian devils had violins and superpowers.
There Be Dragons! I didn’t see this one coming but during the show the massive support structures above the stage rotated and opened up, rows of teeth and a pair of moving Sauron-ish eyes popped up while half the stage was set ablaze. The performers, unfazed, were still playing. I’m a drummer myself but the closest I got to stand between two walls of flames was lighting a few candles in my old practice room to set the mood. I’m hardcore like that.
Their debut album, called Christmas Eve and Other Stories, was released in 1996. It remains their best-selling album. It was followed by The Christmas Attic in 1998 and The Lost Christmas Eve in 2004, completing their Christmas trilogy.
Did I mention the lasers? I did. The Times Union Center has people seating pretty high above ground but the beams were very carefully set to avoid zapping tender retinas. I’ve mentioned it in the past, if you are a photographer, keep in mind that lasers can seriously damage your sensor, as demonstrated in these videos. What kind of Christmas would that be, I’m asking?
Since 1999 two touring groups, TSO East and TSO West, have allowed the band to cover more ground during November & December, when the Holiday Rock Operas are performed. TSO performs as a single band during the rest of the year.
Above, the silhouette of Georgia Napolitano performing “Promises to Keep”, simultaneously captured from the front row in this video.
David Zablidowsky and Chris Caffery shredding above the crowd from a platform in the back of the arena. Here is a wider photo and a video of what turned out to be the finale of the show. Yes, these are fireworks at the end, turned to 11. Again, kudos for performing some songs far from the stage.
The show was divided into two acts. The first part was a narrated performance by Bryan Hicks of most of the songs from Christmas Eve and Other Stories. In the second part, the band performed a mix of songs from their other albums, while dodging fireballs.
Above, John Brink singing and music director Derek Wieland playing the keyboard to the right. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top all the time, right?
More photos and videos
For more on this show, Check Nippertown’s LIVE: The Trans-Siberian Orchestra @ the Times Union Center, 12/26/11, or David Malachowski’s review at The Times Union.
YouTube user squintyt4e has a staggering 85% of both Albany shows that same day in 1080p HD from the front row. Here is the 3pm show and the 8pm show. I’ve linked to many of these vids in this post, here are two more clips below, “First Snow” and one of the orchestra’s most recognizable songs, “Christmas Canon”, a take on Johann Pachelbel‘s Canon in D major from their 1998 release The Christmas Attic.