At a Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) concert, the music is the star.
TSO wowed the crowd at the PPL center on Friday night, November 18th. This was the band’s first time playing in Allentown, Pennsylvania. They have had tour stops in Philadelphia and Reading, Pennsylvania in the past. But this was their first venture to the Lehigh Valley. According to one band member, the show sold out in record time: one hour. Fitting, seeing as the “Christmas City” of Bethlehem, PA is just a few miles away from the nearly 11,000-seat arena.
As tradition would have it, the first portion of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s show began as a presentation of one of the bands full ‘stories’. For the 2016 Winter Tour, they chose to return to their seminal 1999 Fox television special, The Ghosts of Christmas Eve. Following the story of a young girl who has lost her way in life (and lost Christmas magic as well), the special features ten of TSO’s biggest hits, including “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24”, “First Snow”, and their mash-up of “O Come All Ye Faithful/ O Holy Night”. All ten of those songs were performed, and clips from the special were shown during live narrated segments throughout the evening. These segments allowed the band much-earned breathers.
Band members acknowledged the crowd for the first time 90 minutes into the concert, at the conclusion of the ‘story’ portion of the concert. The second half of the concert featured some of Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s biggest hits. They performed selections from their non-holiday offerings Letters From The Labyrinth, Beethoven’s Last Night, and Night Castle. Other Christmas favorites were also sprinkled throughout this hour-long ‘best of’ section.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra is renowned for the large production value of their concerts. The expertly crafted lighting, lasers, fog, screens, and pyro created a truly visceral yet complimentary experience. Stage pieces and lighting trusses were raised and lowered as if by Christmas magic. The world-class pyrotechnical wizardry turned the PPL Center into a winter village on steroids.
“At a Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) concert, the music is the star.”
Standouts from the Allentown show include, “This Christmas Day,” which saw the stage transformed into a giant gingerbread house. The pyro during the finale reprise of “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” gave new meaning to the term, ‘Go big or go home’. There were also quieter moments too, like when just a spotlight and microphone stand were all that was needed for the beautiful, “Someday.” Every song featured the right amount of special effects that added to the musical arrangements. The visual elements were never a distraction. This is thanks to the genius of the band’s creator and producer-extraordinaire, Paul O’Neill.
O’Neill also devised a system that allows the band to cover as much territory during the holidays each year: two distinct touring groups. O’Neill is smart enough to know that the fans care about the music, not the personalities behind it. That said, the performers are FULL of personality. They rock out like a Christmas-loving heavy metal hair band, displaying a passion for holiday hard rock that is distinctly TSO.
By creating these touring groups, the music of Trans-Siberian Orchestra becomes the celebrity. The music is why people came. The production is why they stayed. Despite the band’s cajoling and attempts to rile the spectators, the crowd was never louder than when it recognized the opening notes to a song. After all, TSO’s debut album celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. Ever since, their music has been a staple of the holiday season. And on a not-so-cold winter’s night in Allentown, Trans-Siberian Orchestra proved why that music-and their touring iterations-will be around for many more Christmases to come.
Author: 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.