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Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Courtesy photo.




Trans-Siberian Orchestra

When: Saturday, Nov. 28, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. 
Where: Verizon Wireless Arena, 555 Elm St., Manchester
Tickets: $32-$69 at ticketmaster.com




Rockin’ Christmas
Trans-Siberian Orchestra returns with new show

11/26/15
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com



For many a music fan, Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s yearly concert appearance is a holiday tradition. Massively staged, the show is a heady blend of rock opera, electrified carol sing and Yule tree lighting. One reason for the band’s steady return business is the way that the Christmas progressive rock spectacular manages to raise the bar every year.
When it comes to new toys — whether it’s added video screens, fancier lighting, gee-whiz lasers or flashier pyrotechnics — there’s always more, and 2015 is no exception. 
“I can’t really let on too much, but it is probably the most drastic change in the visuals of the show that’s happened over the past five or six years,” TSO drummer Jeff Plate said in a recent phone interview. “For the folks who come every year — you’re going to get something quite a bit different.”
Early on, Plate recalled, the scale of their performances wasn’t so majestic. 
“In terms of where it is now and where it came from, I can remember our first show in Philly at the Tower Theater, with maybe 1,200 people,” Plate said. “We had a truck full of lights and sound and a bunch of long-haired dudes in tuxedos wondering, what the hell are we doing?” 
Fast forward to the present day. Two full touring units work east and west of the Mississippi. Each hauls a few dozen semi-trailers to each show, which takes 15 hours to set up. 
“Did we ever think it would be this massive? You never know — but all the credit goes to Paul O’Neill,” Plate said. 
O’Neill is composer, producer, lyricist and keyboard player with TSO. 
“Paul believed in this and just kept driving and pushing it,” Plate said.
Along with O’Neill, co-producer and keyboardist Bob Kinkel, guitarists Chris Caffery and Al Pitrelli and bass player John Middleton, Plate is a founding TSO member. Before that, he played with TSO precursor Savatage, a band produced by O’Neill. Plate found Savatage by chance in the mid-1980s, while he was in Worcester-based Wicked Witch.
The group needed a singer and recruited Zak Stevens, then living in California. 
“I met Zak at the airport and said, ‘Let’s go out and have a couple of beers and see a band,’” Plate said. “We went to the Channel, a big club in Boston, and Savatage was playing. I remember standing on the floor watching them and going, ‘Holy crap!’” 
Stevens joined Savatage as vocalist in 1992; two years later, Plate became the band’s drummer. During a transition period marked by death and strife, he contributed to “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24,” a song that became a blueprint for TSO following work. When Savatage disbanded in the mid-1990s — they’ve since regrouped — Plate moved up. 
“Twenty-two years later, and here I still am,” he said with a laugh.   
The current tour’s structure is similar to past shows. The first half of the concerts features a part Broadway, part arena rock musical played in its entirety by the 25-member ensemble. This year’s story is Ghosts of Christmas Eve, the final installment of a TSO trilogy that began with Christmas Eve and Other Stories, and The Christmas Attic.
Intermission is followed by a medley of TSO favorites, along with new songs from the just-released LP Letters from the Labyrinth. The follow-up to 2009’s Night Castle and the 2012 EP Dreams of Fireflies, it’s a departure for the group, according to Plate. 
“It’s not a concept record; there isn’t a story that ties together every song,” he said. “All the songs are strong, and they stand on their own.”
For Plate, the urge to play drums came when he saw KISS perform on television. 
“I was 13 and it just blew my mind. I said, ‘That is what I am going to do,’” he said. 
With TSO, the show goes well beyond his early heroes. 
“KISS laid the groundwork for so many bands in terms of the live performance,” he said. “When you see our show, your senses are assaulted in many of the same ways. ... It’s that times 10. I think we’ve accomplished what we were trying to do.”





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