My junior year in college, we were poking around on the internet and found this awesome song entitled "Christmas Eve / Sarejevo" which was basically a rock version of the classic "Carol of the Bells." I LOVED that song and listened to it an awful lot, probably driving everyone around me absolutely batty. The copy we found was listed as being by a group called Savatage, but we couldn't find any more music like it, so we figured it was a one-off they had done and just enjoyed what we had. In November of 2001, I was in the lab at the PDF one day when that song came on the radio, followed by the DJ announcing that "we just played 'Christmas Eve / Sarejevo 12/24' by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra." Cue the frantic scrambling to the computer for Google, and I discovered that TSO was the band we'd been looking for all that time, and they had two Christmas albums out. Much happiness was had that year!
The following year (2002) we discovered that TSO does a holiday tour every year, and so we decided to go to their show. It was at Mercer Arena at Seattle Center, and we wound up with 14th row tickets after miscommunication lost us our 2nd row tickets. The show was utterly fantastic, more than the CDs and DVD could have ever prepared us for, and Chris and I decided on the spot that this was how we would celebrate the holiday season every year. Some people go to the Nutcracker ballet, we go to see the Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert. We've gone six out of the last seven years, only missing 2004 due to our Christmas trip east already planned with tickets bought before the TSO tour schedule was announced - and I seriously considered flying to LA to see the show on my own!
This past Saturday was the annual TSO show, and despite it being "early" for a Christmas show we of course eagerly got our tickets during the fan presale in September, made our reservations for a dinner out, and missed a flyball tournament to attend. This year we were in the seventh row center, and it was a great location just barely off from last year's epic third row seats. Every year the band does the same plan for the show - the first half is the full "Christmas Eve and Other Stories" storyline, and the second half is when they introduce the band and do a setlist from their entire catalog plus some other songs like "Carmina Burana." This year the sound balance was perfect, the pyrotechnics were phenomenal, and the show was utterly fantastic with absolutely no sour notes.
With the repetition of the main storyline each year, the group often does little things to freshen up the routine. This year it was a combination of being exceedingly clean and adding in extra riffs and solos, as well as a few specialty "duets" including the two violinists playing one violin (she was fingering the strings, he was using the bow) and the two keyboardists playing a duet on one keyboard. Unfortunately the lead guitarist, Al Pitrelli, had injured himself just a few days before our show by jumping off the stage onto a dais, in the process shattering his knee and tearing his ACL (according to Tommy's introduction), so he was limited to a chair on stage instead of his usual rock star presence. The only thing this affected musically, however, was that we missed his beautiful harmonizing with Tommy on "Ornament," which is impressive - all of his solos were just as beautiful and technical as ever, and he was fully in the moment like few other artists are.
One of the reasons I love TSO so is because they are all so happy to be up on stage performing, not only for the audience but for each other. They are clearly friends, have played together for years (over 20 in some cases), and are just out to have a great time. This comes across so clearly in their music and in how they interact with each other that you can't help but grin when they play. Watching Al and his wife Jane interact is also usually pretty entertaining, as they definitely have a loving yet playful relationship - this year Al introduced Jane with "The first time I heard her play she stopped my heart, and then six months later she had the misfortune of marrying me. It's been ten years and she still stops my heart." So, so sweet. :) A few years ago Tommy made some snarky comment about Jane marrying Al and not him as well, so clearly a well-worn friendship in place, which makes the show that much better.
There are two touring companies, one for the east coast and one for the west coast, and the major players have stayed the same for every year we've gone - Tommy Farese on vocals, Al Pitrelli on lead guitar, Angus Clark on guitar, Jane Mangini on keyboards (Al's wife), Kristin Gorman on vocals, and Anthony Gaynor as narrator. With so many key players staying the same from tour to tour, it is a bit like seeing old friends every year and makes it that much more personal to me. The band is kind enough to have a meet & greet after every show open to anyone who attended, and we went our first year (2002) and again this year (2008). This picture above shows the signatures from both of these years, and I also have a book of piano music from "Christmas Eve and Other Stories" that was signed in 2002. All of the band members are kind and gracious, and I truly wish I could spend an evening in their company to just listen to their stories. I'm sure many fans feel the same way, however, and I think it is wonderful that they do put as much of their personal time out with the fans as they do. Not many bands are willing to do so, and it is very special that TSO does.
This year when we stayed back to meet the band, it was not too bad of a wait and it was really nice to have a moment with each of the members. We were able to wish Al a speedy recovery and tell him how much his show means to us - that it's not Christmas until they play, which seemed to touch him a bit. I was able to talk to the drummer (John O'Reilly) about his choice of ride cymbals, and one of the singers really liked my dragon pendant. The narrator (Anthony) and Tommy were the last at the table, and I was able to tell Anthony how much he adds to the show, while he was quite impressed with my tanzanite ring. As we wrapped up, we told Tommy thanks so much and that this was our sixth show - to which he said "Oh wow, I've got to do something for that...." and pulled out two pre-show passes for us to have as souveneirs. Combined with the printed guitar picks the guitarists had out for us, we had a truly unique souveneir of our evening. Every member of this band is a class act, and I am thankful that they are willing to spend their holiday season touring and entertaining us every year. May they have a smooth tour this year, and I look forward to seeing them again in 2009.
And now the holidays have begun!