Whatever you think of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, it can be agreed that the spectacle is a unique holiday experience.
Now in its 21st year, the annual tour stocked with enough lasers, squealing guitars, lights and hydraulics to rival a Kiss concert, is returning to its roots with “Christmas Eve and Other Stories.”
The show is based on the triple-platinum 1996 album of the same name and follows a story constructed by late founder/composer/lyricist Paul O’Neill. Themes of kindness, helpfulness and positive representations of humanity run deep.
The production is best categorized as a rock opera, and this year’s outing will include the return of fan favorites “Ornament” and “Old City Bar,” as well as TSO classics “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” and “Wizards in Winter.”
Drummer Jeff Plate is a TSO veteran, having played in the power metal band Savatage, from which TSO was born.
Calling from upstate New York a few weeks before the annual TSO trek began, Plate — who also still plays in an ‘80s rock cover band — talked to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Kaedy Kiely of The River 97.1 FM (listen to the podcast below) about the charitable nature of TSO and the decision to carry on after founder O’Neill’s sudden death in 2017.
Q: You’re going back to the beginning this time. Why?
A: We’re representing “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” the first CD from 1996. It’s what really put TSO on the map. We did it for 12 years, but broke away the last two years to do “Ghosts of Christmas Eve.” We lost Paul, but even prior to that, he was talking about bringing back (“Christmas Eve and Other Stories”), and his family thought it was time. Over several years, our production has improved tremendously.
Q: It’s really incredible to absorb how much TSO has grown. Are you still surprised by it?
A: I’ve had the good fortune of being here since the beginning. “Christmas in Sarajevo” was first recorded by Savatage, and at the time, Paul wanted to put the song on the TSO record. The rest of us were scratching our heads thinking, “What is Paul thinking?” The album comes out, and it was huge. We started out as a very humble production with a couple dozen lights. Then it really took hold and people got the idea that the show was not only a great show — musically it covered all the bases — but it was something you could bring your family to.
Q: How difficult was the decision to carry on with TSO after Paul died?
A: We all had to wonder. …What was Paul’s family going to do? TSO now belongs to Paul’s daughter and his wife. TSO is such a successful company, and we employ a lot of people and make a lot of people happy. At the same time, Paul had this insane energy for this project, and in a way, he kind of worked himself to death. I’m sure his family was torn for a little while, but after the dust settled, it made perfect sense that we need to carry this on for Paul. He did a very good job surrounding himself with a lot of people. Everything was in place for this to carry on. Oddly enough, Paul would talk about that, that TSO would outlive us all. Lo and behold, it was him who went first, and we went wow, …we have to take the torch and carry on for the guy.
Q: TSO has donated so much to charity. Tell us about that.
A: It’s more than $16 million nationwide. You understand where Paul was coming from. He was one of the nicest, most generous giving people you’ll ever meet. This is a great time of year for some people and a tough time for others. One dollar (from every ticket sold) helps people get through a rough time. Paul would always say, “You do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.”
3 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8. $49.50-$79.50. Infinite Energy Arena, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth. 770-626-2464, infiniteenergycenter.com.
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