Trans-Siberian Orchestra Lights Up Hartford Invoking The Sacred Name Of Savatage
It was 1996, New York City, in what was a converted church. That was the first and last time I saw Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I was 25 years old. A band, comprised mostly of my heroes since I was a child, took the stage, fittingly on the church's former altar. You see, this new incarnation of Savatage had erupted on the scene quicker than those same heroes did in all the thirteen years prior to that first show.
It seems that by incorporating Savatage material into Christmas material with Broadway type singers, the band, disguised as Trans-Siberian Orchestra, gained almost instantaneous commercial and mainstream notoriety. They had been "accepted." I knew then that Savatage was doomed to end and time revealed it to be true, as they released only two albums in what would be the band's final five years after. Now relegated to a side project with a terminal "on hold" status, Savatage can only be heard within Trans-Siberian Orchestra, who continue to this day incorporate song parts, whole songs and it's legacy with contributions from all members, including one of its main writers/composers, The Mountain King Jon Oliva.
Today, Trans-Siberian Orchestra has turned into a global phenomenon. The band still features Al Pitrelli, Johnny Lee Middleton, Chris Caffery and Jeff Plate, but the production is so huge that the band splits that core and sends them to both parts of the U.S. each winter to tour simultaneously. While Caffery and Plate take on the eastern half of the country, Pitrelli and Middleton take on the West Coast. The shows in Hartford went on hours before shows in Seattle did the same day. The guest singers on this tour include Ronny Munroe (Ex-Metal Church) on the east coast and Jeff Scott Soto (Ex-Yngwie Malmsteen, Talisman) on the west coast.
The production of the show has been ramped up to epic proportions. With the new lighting rigs the band now make the two and a half hour show a spectacle like no other. The show is divided into two parts with the first half similar to that very first tour, the story of the Angel's visit to find something good at Christmas time, now with a host of additional tracks that time has produced. The band played hits like "Christmas (Sarajevo 12/24)," "The Music Box," "Angel Came Down," "An Angel Returned," "Christmas Canon," "First Snow" and "Wizards In Winter." The highlight for me was "Old City Bar," brilliantly sung and acted by Ronny Munroe. The band even lead the night off with "Who I am," a brand new track. Both Jeff Plate and guitarist Joel Hoekstra were able to show off their respective talents with solo pieces.
Much to my delight, the second half, was a smattering of both the band's Christmas tunes as well as songs from the "Night Castle" and "Beethoven's Last Night" albums. In addition, the band played a new song that will appear on the forthcoming album "Gutter Ballet," an interpretation of one of Savatage's greatest albums, which Caffery announced during the brief intermission. This portion of the show was even more dramatic and more exciting as the stage platform suspended from the ceiling was lowered allowing Caffery, bassist David Z and violin player "Rowdy" Roddy Chong to run around above the floor crowd to get closer to the stadium seats. At one point during "The Mountain" (a/k/a Savatage's "Prelude To Madness") the light rig turned into three gaping mouths with teeth and eyes reminiscent of the album artwork of Mastodon's latest "The Hunter."
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the eclectic crowds that show up to a T.S.O. show, which ranges from the elderly, the mainstream pop crowd, the classical lovers, the metal heads and children with their soccer moms. At this particular show, some of those people left when the second half of the show proved to be too metal for their tastes.
The band concluded with "Requiem (The Fifth)" and and stunning visual finale. Chris Caffery and Dave Z jumped on the mini-stage behind the soundboard rising 20 feet in the air with fire and fireworks. Dancers donned the lowered stage platform above the floor crowd. Caffery then entered the crowd up the staircase where I stood while the stage exploded into fire, fireworks and pinwheels of sparks. It was an amazing event.
Even if you don't fancy the music behind T.S.O., there is enough eye candy to wrap Christmas up with the Fourth of July. For those who long to see Savatage rise again need only check out Trans-Siberian Orchestra, where Savatage still lives.
Carl Frederick is a staff writer for Metal Underground.com. From the early to mid-90's, Carl published his own fanzine called C.R.O.M. In 1997, he released a compilation entitled "CROM: The Resurrection of True Metal," which featured songs from bands from around the world, including the first U.S. release of any kind for bands like Italy's Rhapsody (n/k/a Rhapsody of Fire) and Brazil's Angra. Follow Carl on Facebook and Twitter: @CROMCarl.
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