Trans-Siberian Orchestra returns to Lehigh Valley

TSO’s familiar brand of Christmas magic and music wowed once again

Perhaps it was fitting that Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s two shows at PPL Center in Allentown, PA fell on the day the city had their First Snow (Dec 16), for it is one of their most popular songs.

TSO has become a Christmas tradition for many in the Lehigh Valley region of PA — as it has for this reporter, be it in my hometown or my current city of Washington, DC. But here, a TSO show is made all the more special because the annual celebration of the Yuletide season is part of a cultural identity in the Valley. After all, neighboring city Bethlehem is America’s premiere Christmas City, constantly topping national lists of must-see holiday destinations. (Sorry, Branson. You’re a close second!)

The Orchestra, too, has deep ties to the region. East Coast troupe MC Chris Caffrey played his first show with TSO in Philly. Their drummer Jeff Plates played his first show 23 years ago with TSO in Wilkes-Barre. Pennsylvania and Trans-Siberian Orchestra go together like a tree and lights.

And boy, were there lots and lots of lights. Six stories of them, as a matter of fact. And countless OLED screens. Laser and lights and fog and fire punctuated ever note, as they always do. Yet, it is always fresh and exciting to see the new imagery associated with a TSO concert.

The story section featured The Ghosts of Christmas Eve, a best-of album strung together with a magical tale of a lost girl finding her way home by Christmas magic. Of course, Bryan Hicks is the undisputed champion of Christmas storytellers. His intonations alone make dreams come alive. The screens and narration created a heartwarming atmosphere that spilled out into the crowd.

The annual showcase featured some new arrangements as well. New, unrecorded song “Christmas Carousels” was mashed with The Lost Christmas Eve classic “Siberian Sleigh Ride” to jumpstart the second half. Speaking jumping, spirited violinist “Rowdy” Roddy Chong is an ageless wonder who seems to teleport from one edge of the stage to the other, to the ceiling, and to the back of the arena. (For what it’s worth, this reporter would call him a fiddler — someone who just tears it up with a bow and some strings under his chin.)

It is so hard to describe a TSO show without giving anything away. People who have seen them before know what to expect, yet don’t at the same time. And people who have never been and only know the music from their seasonal playlists leave blown away. The concert itself is a constant gift for the initiated and ignorant alike. That is why it has become a year-end TMU tradition. Because after a year of covering concerts, there is nothing like sitting back and letting the familiar wow you once again. A stream of lights, Christmas spirit, and really tight music.

A friend put it best, “There is no star in TSO. The star is the show.” For what is the Christmas season if not a time to rediscover the familiar in untold new ways? Trans-Siberian Orchestra always captures that, and that is why people return year after year. Because TSO’s constant presence at this time of year is reassuring, a steady hand assuring us that whether it is in the place you grew up or the place life has taken you, at Christmas we can all find our way home.

Matt Bailey
Matt Bailey

Matt Bailey is podcast producer and writer located in the Northeast. Since 2013, Bailey has produced more than 160 episodes of his own online radio show, Talk For Two. In 2016 alone, he interviewed Kevin Bacon, Crystal Gayle, Bob Barker, and Gilbert Gottfried, among several other stars. As a Correspondent for The Music Universe, his focus is Broadway, country music and concert reviews.