by Steven Sanchez
Thrilling. Exciting. Electric. Bewildering. Amazing. These are just a few adjectives I could conjure up when witnessing the spectacle before my eyes that was the Trans-Siberian Orchestra performing at the Save Mart Center on December 1. The heavy metal/theatrical/operatic hybrid musical act is primarily known for the single, “Christmas Eve / Sarajevo,” which has become a staple of holiday radio for it thunderous guitars with the melodic string accompaniment that’s filled with Christmas joy. One that isn’t conventional but they’ve made it unique and a part of their aesthetic. The combination of theatrics and extravagance with their holiday-themed musical presentation not only has earned them a reputation for being a top touring act but one of the most standout artists in the realm of the holiday genre.
It had everything you’d want in a live show. There were lasers, pyrotechnics, and maneuvering lights. So much extravagance that they can hold a candle to KISS. But the real scene stealer was the music. The whole band is comprised of classically-trained musicians and singers. Every member had their own moment under the spotlight. It wasn’t just a concert, a play, or an opera, it was a concoction of all these music genres and storytelling showcases that no matter what form of entertainment you prefer, all in attendance were equally enthralled by the pageantry.
This is their “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve” tour – the Best of TSO & More presented by Hallmark Channel. They were scheduled to come to Fresno last year, but the pandemic forced them to cancel. With that time a way, they more than made up for it by delivering a pulse pounding, visually exciting galore that made it worth the wait. For 2022, TSO brings a completely updated presentation of the unforgettable, multi-generational holiday tradition, “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve,” to sixty cities across the nation. The band’s management informed KRL that this tour will include a second set containing more of TSO’s greatest hits and fan-pleasers including “Wizards In Winter,” “A Mad Russian’s Christmas,” and many more.
They shuffled through different singers like an iTunes playlist. But what was different about this show was that it told a story. A mini movie played on the screens that occupied the stage with a narrator where a song accompanied a different chapter of the story. The theme of the short film was to showcase the true meaning of Christmas which is love and joy.
The holiday songs got everybody into the Christmas spirit. They played “Christmas Canon,” their own renditions of “Last Christmas,” and “The Nutcracker.” My personal favorite was one called, “This Christmas Day.” It was an emotional song, and the singer put his heart and soul into his vocals and the choir accompaniment made for an epic moment. It grew with the whole crowd standing up and clapping to the beat where holiday cheer was definitely felt. Then, of course, came the song that everyone was anticipating: “Christmas Eve / Sarajevo.” Not only did they play it once, but twice. They played it earlier in the night with fire explosions, and then later towards the end of their set. But during the later version they had this levitating stage that protruded out toward the floor sections where I was. I saw the show in the middle floor section towards the front of the stage, and throughout the course of the night this “V” shaped stage would emerge and hover over where I was and different members would perform on it. And some of the members played their second version of their classic on that. Making the night even more epic.
Al Pitrelli, lead guitarist and musical director and has been with the band since 1995, took the stage on several occasions to express words of appreciation for different things, gave the band a shout out, gave praise to Paul O’ Neill (the late great creator of the band), thanked the troops to a standing ovation, and expressed gratitude to the Central Valley. But in all honesty, there should be two shout outs that shouldn’t go unnoticed. One should be the pyrotechnic department, I mean the synchronization of the fire to the beats of the music was astounding and how much explosions there were takes a certain level of precision. And then the graphic designer who managed the screen graphics that played on screens on the backdrop throughout the show displaying cathedrals, pillars, and holiday-themed configurations brought much dramatic splendor.
Definitely the stand out moments of the night was during one of their instrumentals; there were dueling guitars which I’m convinced they did play a segment of Steely Dan’s, “Reelin in the Years,” for a good length of time. But what happened during that performance was one of the guitar players and violinist played at the back of the arena on a levitating stage so the people in the very back can be get a good view of the show. Then later on, during one of their songs, everyone took out their phones with the lights on and swayed side-to-side in unison creating an everlasting memory.
My job has allowed me to be present at some very exciting concerts that encompass all musical genres, and I’ve got to say the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is very high up on that list. A good case can even be made as to why it could be number one, and I wouldn’t disagree with it. The Central Valley hosts quite a bit of holiday-themed grandiose events like Christmas Tree Lane, Candy Cane Lane, every little town has their own parade, or the drone shows, and I’ve got to say, this show was Christmas personified. Each event is enjoyable but, with TSO, it was something special and the thousands that were there would agree. TSO makes their way to the Valley every year, and if you want to get into the Christmas spirit and experience a show like no other, I highly recommend seeing them.