The first time that I saw Trans-Siberian Orchestra live, it turned out to be one of the musical highlights of the year for me. The year was 2011, the venue exactly the same as tonight (note: then called The Hammersmith Apollo) and the occasion was the presentation of the band’s highly successful concept “Beethoven’s Last Night”.
I remember leaving the venue after a two hour performance feeling thoroughly rewarded by the high quality audio/visual presentation, as well as killer covers of Savatage classics such as “Sleep” and “Believe” so when the opportunity occurred for me to review the band’s latest show, one to include performances of more classic Savatage material, I knew that I had to grab it with both hands.
With doors opening at 19:00, I collected my tickets and found my seat pretty close to the stage. With one hour or so to kill, I wandered around the venue, checking out the high quality technical equipment positioned across the stage and enjoyed looking at people from all walks of life gradually filling the venue.
Moments after 20:00, dry ice started filling the stage, the lights were dimmed, a small group of string musicians and a ten piece chorus positioned themselves to the right of the stage and seconds later an orgy of sounds and light filled the venue.
The main protagonists were, as expected, present and in high spirits. Chris Caffery and Al Pitrelli on guitar duties (note: with the latter also playing the role of the organiser) Johnny Lee Middleton (bass) and Jeff Plate (drums), the band’s rhythm section, completing the founding ‘fathers’ of this unique ensemble, with mad keyboardist Vitalij Kuprij and narrator extraordinaire Bryan Hicks adding much to the proceedings.
The group came across as very tight and well rehearsed when performing opening tunes “Time and Distance” and “Winter Palace” but the big question mark was how the ten vocalists would recreate Savatage’s classic material. The result, this time, was less impressive in comparison to the great performances back in 2011.
Don’t get me wrong: Rob Evan and Jeff Scott Soto made a decent effort in their respective attempts but Erika Jerry’s rendition of “Handful Of Rain” felt forced and Nathan James, though technically gifted, was not the right man to sing a classic such as “Gutter Ballet” – an opinion clearly not shared by the crowd that offered its hearty applause to the smiling singer.
It was almost ironic that the best attempt to a Savatage classic came from one of the most recent additions to TSO’s vocal ‘team’, a tall chap named Robin Borneman and who offered an impassioned and respectful rendition of the all-time classic power balled “Believe”.
With Savatage numbers not coming across as hoped, I turned instead my focus on the musicianship on offer which was, undeniably, of the highest standards. Metallic re-workings of classic pieces by Mozart and Liszt were met positively by an otherwise tame crowd and it was only when a dynamic version of “Carmina Burana” and a TSO interpretation of “God Save The Queen” were performed that the venue really came to life.
The band’s two and a half hour performance was concluded with more interpretations of classic material and with Paul O’Neill, the band’s ‘boss’ in the words of Al Pitrelli, throwing pair after pair of sun glasses to the sounds of “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)”.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra is a group of unbelievably skilled musicians whose purpose is to make classical music accessible to the masses through the medium of a massive Broadway-style production.
In their quest they provide a great show through lighting and the best sound equipment that money can buy and that alone, providing you’re not a music purist that is, is enough to make attending their show an enjoyable experience.
Now, as far as Savatage material is concerned – maybe the best approach is to tread cautiously, since it’s simply not the same without the Mountain King himself!
Review by Yiannis Stefanis
Trans-Siberian Orchestra Set List:
- “Time And Distance”
- “Winter Palace”
- “This Is The Time” (Savatage cover, preceded by narration “Best Of Times”)
- “Christmas Jam”
- “Handful Of Rain” (Savatage cover)
- “A Last Illusion”
- “Gutter Ballet” (Savatage cover)
- “Misery” (Preceded by narration: “Satan”)
- “Memphistopheles’ Return”
- “The Hourglass” (Savatage cover, preceded by narration “Poets & Madmen”)
- “Child Unseen”
- “Believe” (Savatage cover)
- “Wish Liszt (Toy Shop Madness)”
- “After The Fall” (Preceded by narration: “Beethoven’s Heart”)
- “Wizards In Winter”
- “Dreams Of Fireflies (On A Christmas Night)”
- “Carmina Burana”
- “Epiphany” (Preceded by “Lost Christmas Eve”)
- “The Mountain”
- “Piano Solo / God Save The Queen”
- “Requiem (The Fifth)” (Preceded by narration: “Closing”)
- “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)” (Savatage cover)
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