For the past 15 years Trans-Siberian Orchestra has become increasingly as synonymous with Christmas as giant illuminated trees, overweight men dressed in red and maxed-out credit cards.
They’re now a storied chapter in contemporary holiday culture whose annual trip to State College currently rivals that guy with the nine reindeers flying high above.
Celebrating a decade and a half of playing over 1,500 shows for more than 10 million fans, TSO will be performing their epic rock opera “The Lost Christmas Eve” one last time at the Bryce Jordan Center Friday evening.
“Everything is going great and it was a shock when my manager told me that this was our 15th-year anniversary of non-stop TSO touring,” said the band’s founder, Paul O’Neill. “It feels like we started just yesterday, even though the evidence is all around me. Band members that were teenagers are now in their 30s and the teenagers currently playing with us weren’t even born when I started the band.”
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Knowing that he wanted to be a musician for as long as he can remember, O’Neill has found success in just about every aspect of the industry. From producing live albums for Aerosmith to working as a promoter for Sting and Madonna at the height of their popularity, O’Neill has an extensive background in the business, which has helped TSO become one of the highest selling concert acts of the past 10 years.
Seeing TSO live provides an absolutely unrivaled concert experience. The stage work, lighting and pyrotechnics are astonishing and greatly enhance the already unbelievable music coming from the collection of band members performing on the “flight deck.”
“We’re using millions and millions of dollars on new special effects on the flight deck,” O’Neill said while discussing the band’s stage set-up for their current go-around. “Every year we destroy the set from the year before which forces us to come up with a brand new one. We expand every year and technology has always been very helpful to us.”
“We’re always pushing the envelope and we want people to feel emotions that they’ve never felt before,” O’Neill said while discussing the band’s philosophy, “We want to make the best albums and have the best concerts while charging the lowest possible price. To me, live music has always been important, but I think that it’s even more important now. In the 70s and 80s you toured to sell albums, now you make albums so you can tour. We love to record, but it isn’t really real until you get to play in front of a live audience.”
“The Lost Christmas Eve” is the perfect closer to the band’s Christmas Trilogy. Molded in the vein of “A Christmas Carol,” “Lost Christmas” is filled with fantastical settings and familiar characters with a prog-rock twist. It is a true highlight in the band’s repertoire. Naturally, the show will feature the amazing and hard-hitting rock that has defined the band, however, like all good things, this too must end, albeit in the most explosive manner possible.
“This is the last time that we’re doing ‘The Lost Christmas Eve’ in its entirety,” O’Neill said, “It doesn’t disappear, it just goes back on the library shelf because we have such a backlog of rock operas and we’re trying to avoid any repetition. We love that rock opera, but there are other ones we want to get out there. It also doesn’t let us get into a comfortable rut, for both the audience and the band.”
This pursuit has led to a fresh start for touring cycle and has already started to attract the next generation of fans.
“People will come up to us, in their late 20s or early 30s with their kids, and say things like, ‘We first saw you in high school,’ and now here they are back with their kids,” O’Neill said, “It’s great watching the torch pass, whether it’s on the stage or in the audience. Our fans have just been unbelievably supportive, the fans own the band. In a weird way, right now, it’s almost scarier than it was when we first started the band because nobody knew what to expect, so there were no expectations. But then we exploded and it has just been a shock ever since, so now the big scary thing is to not mess it up.”
“It’s been such a wonderful ride,” O’Neill added, “I really do believe that TSO is a band with incredible musicians who love getting together and interacting, and I don’t want to see it die, it nurtures the future.”