By Val Tapia, BADS Contributing Writer
When I think about the plethora of annual holiday-themed events that surround the Valley this time of year, the majority of them are held in theatres. Which makes sense, considering they create an appealing intimacy with an audience that’s very much into the “spirit” of the holiday season.
Whether it’s The Nutcracker, or the many interpretations of the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, or Manheim Steamroller Christmas, there’s no doubt that a theatre is the perfect setting for those productions.
However, there’s one holiday event since 2005 that has only taken place in arenas. Not to mention it eventually grew into doing both matinee (afternoon) and evening shows one year later. In short order, this “award” goes to Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO).
Here’s a couple of fun facts for you. In a recent phone chat I had with lead guitarist and musical director Al Pitrelli, since the band’s inception as a live entity in 1999, TSO (as they are more commonly referred to) has never played a club.
They started in theatres which slowly morphed into arenas five years later. From there, it eventually grew into two versions of the band: TSO East and TSO West, respectively. This way, they have the ability to play more shows around the country during the holiday season. Clever marketing indeed, if nothing else.
“It’s also important to say that TSO has never been an opening act, nor has TSO ever had an opening act”, Pitrelli said proudly.
I asked Pitrelli about his recollections of the 2020 livestream that TSO did in lieu of a full-scale tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We approched it like any other show”, Pitrelli said. “However, I have to admit it was strange playing to TV monitors as opposed to a live audience. Like everyone else in our business, we were watching the (COVID) situation carefully hoping for the best.
“In the end, we had to do the right thing not only for our fans, but the band and organization as well. We decided to cancel the tour and do a livestream.”
On that point, I asked him if TSO is still incorporating pandemic protocols on the new tour to be on the safe side.
“If you’re asking me if we’re mandating masks on the tour, the answer is no. We’re all adults here. Having said that, some of us continue to wear masks and the overwhelming majority of the band and crew are vaccinated”, Pitrelli said.
He continued, “Personally, I wear a mask every day while on tour. I’m working 12-14 hour days, so I can’t afford to get sick. I do like the fact that a good portion of the audience still wears them. I’d hate to think that a 10, 11 year-old kid or his or her grandparents got sick at one of our shows.”
Musically speaking, Pitrelli is excited to be re-visiting The Ghosts Of Christmas Eve, which was originally a made-for-TV film in 1999. The story centers around a teen runaway who finds shelter in an abandoned theatre on Christmas Eve.
For the 2022 tour, Pitrelli said that Ghosts will be slightly updated without compromising its message of loss and redemption that has resonated with TSO‘s fan base for the better part of two decades.
Pitrelli explained. “In recent years, I realized this particular story that (late TSO founder) Paul O’Neill wrote in the late 90s had a lot more substance and depth to it than its been credited for. As you know, everyone misses somebody during the holiday season. Or there’s always someone missing at the dinner table. We can all relate to that in some capacity, so the human factor really shines (in this story).”
I asked Pitrelli if any new holiday music will see the light of day from TSO in the not-too-distant future.
“Everything is about timing”, Pitrelli said. “I’ve been going through the “vaults” and found some music that Paul wrote that I honestly never knew existed. I would love to do something with that, and when the time is right, it’s likely that it will see eventual release. So, long and short of it, new music is definitely not off the table for TSO.“
I’d be remiss not to mention the philanthropic side of TSO that can never be overstated. One dollar from every ticket sold for the two shows at Footprint Center on Dec. 4 will benefit two local charities: Operation Santa Claus for the 3:00 p.m. show, and the Arizona Animal Welfare League for the 7:30 p.m. show.
One final thought: I always hear from fans of Trans-Siberian Orchestra that hope a song or two will be played from the band that preceded TSO’s existence— a band called Savatage. What does Pitrelli say?
“A resounding yes“, he said enthusiastically. “But I won’t tell you which ones”, he added slyly.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra is scheduled to play two shows (3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.) on Sun. Dec. 4 at Footprint Center (Phoenix Suns Arena). Tickets start at $59 and are available at www.footprintcenter.com