Trans-Siberian Orchestra built a career from turning it up to eleven; this winter’s tour is no exception. “It’s God-like — bigger, with more toys,” said band creator recently Paul O’Neill during a break in rehearsals. The tour stops in Manchester for two shows on Sunday, Nov. 7.
To prepare, the band not only performs each song but also tests every light, laser beam, fire plume and fog machine used in the massive production.
“Usually in rock ’n’ roll, you go to some tertiary markets in the middle of nowhere,” O’Neill said. “But TSO doesn’t do shakeout cruises. We hit the ground at full speed; the opening night has to be as great as the last.”
2010 has been a busy year for the band. In the spring, they performed Beethoven’s Last Night in several cities, their first-ever tour of a non-Christmas effort; the 2000 album is also being made into a movie. They began recording Romanoff: When Kings Must Whisper (“which was supposed to be TSO’s first album but is now going to be our next album,” says O’Neill) and the rock musical Gutter Ballet; selections from both are featured in the second half of the upcoming show.
“The biggest problem is time,” says O’Neill. “Every time I see a Sealy Posturepedic commercial, I say, ‘Ah, sleep — I remember that thing!’”
The holiday season has made the band one of top live acts of the past decade. The seed for TSO’s Christmas Trilogy was Jesus Christ Superstar — a tale both eternal and easily understood, says O’Neill. “The core of the story is the last days of Christ, and they don’t have to explain who Judas is or who the Pontius Pilate is. The huge advantage they had was that everybody knew … before they heard the songs. I thought, damn, those guys are geniuses!”
When O’Neill decided to write a trilogy instead of a single album, he was thinking about Charles Dickens. “Dickens was asked why he did five books about Christmas. He said, ‘Christmas is too large a subject to take on in one book,’” Transforming the subject to a rock music motif involved many challenges. “If you’re writing a book, a musical, an album or a movie about any other subject you’re competing with your generation or the last two generations. When you do something about Christmas, you’re competing with the last 2,000 years.”
Asked what it is about the holiday that he finds so appealing, O’Neill talks about how “it affects people to give their neighbor or even a stranger the benefit of the doubt — and it does it the same the world over.” To illustrate his point, he recalls a personal story: the aftermath of a Christmas Eve fender-bender he witnessed as a child.
“One yellow checkered cab slides into another and gives it a good wallop in the back bumper, and both drivers get out,” remembers O’Neill. “They’re both scary-looking, and we’re afraid there’s going to be a big fight. One of the drivers says, ‘This is my fault, I’m just finishing my shift and I have the money on me.’ The other guy goes back and looks at his bumper and says, ‘You know what? I could have gotten this in any parking lot and the guy could have driven away. Keep your money.’ Next, they’re looking at pictures of each other’s kids and laughing. Any other night, there would have been blood on the street.”
Among the new faces on this year’s tour is London-born singer Georgia Napolitano, who has a four-octave range. Another newcomer is Texan Kayla Reeves, who adds a bluesy element to the show. “She has the best whiskey dust voice I’ve heard since Janis Joplin,” says O’Neill. Both are teenagers. “The good thing about the kids is they don’t realize they’re coming of age in the worst times since the Great Depression. They bring this enthusiasm and they don’t let us old-timers become jaded. I always tell the band that the fans own the group … the day we forget why we’re here on the flight deck, that’s when we start to go down — and the kids get that.”
To that end, the band keeps ticket prices low; seats for the Manchester show start at $25.
“Every human being is entitled to moments of pure joy or perfect nights,” says O’Neill. “It’s our job to throw so many great songs at you, so many great special effects, that your mind can’t worry about anything else. I know this country is going through tough times, but maybe because I’ve seen too many Frank Capra movies, I believe in happy endings.”