It hasn’t been an easy year for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra family.
In July, longtime bassist David “Z” Zablidowsky was killed in a car accident while touring with his other band, Adrenaline Mob.
Three months earlier, TSO endured serious heartache when founder Paul O’Neill, 61, died from an unexpected reaction to prescription medication.
But the organization vowed to keep its two national tours rolling this season – and beyond – to again celebrate "The Ghosts of Christmas Eve;” they’ve dedicated the tour to the memory of O’Neill, who is honored during the song, “The Safest Way Into Tomorrow.”
At the matinee TSO performance on Saturday at Infinite Energy Arena (the show repeated at 8 p.m.), the group – usually more than a dozen people at any given time – proved that after two decades, this juggernaut hasn’t lost a hint of its garish glory.
Strings, choruses, electric guitar, violins, video projections, lasers, banks of lights and hissing hydraulics accompanied nearly every song, whether an electrified version of “O Come All Ye Faithful” or the visceral O’Neill original, “Music Box Blues” (featuring standout singer Lisa Lavie).
The current assembly of TSO talent includes hotshot guitarist Joel Hoekstra, whose busy career has put him on stages with hair rockers Night Ranger and Whitesnake. Joining Hoekstra with his trusty Flying-V guitar was Chris Caffery, a longtime member of TSO and former player in Savatage, the ‘80s-‘90s rockers whose Jon Oliva and Al Pitrelli were recruited by O’Neill to form the nucleus of TSO.
The complement to the musical swagger is the story interwoven throughout, about a young girl chasing her dream. That magical narration is presented by the molasses-voiced Bryan Hicks, a TSO vet since 2003, whose mere intonations brought a tear to your eye.
The early show on Saturday was sold out, though some empty seats indicated more than a few people were worried about residual snow. TSO has clearly tapped into something universal, though, if a crowd dotted with baseball caps and graying hair can revel in the bombast of guys who look like background musicians for Def Leppard, cira 1987.
But the audience listened attentively at the angelic “Christmas Canon Rock” and cheered enthusiastically at the big guitar riffs that power “First Snow.”
One of many visual – and aural - highlights was the Savatage cover (and Christmastime radio fodder) “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24).” Live, it’s a bundle of rock clichés – fire, lasers, moving walkways, squealing guitars – and it is spectacular.
TSO is hardly the most subtle holiday offering out there - just listen to “Wizards in Winter” for proof - but they are unarguably one of the most joyful, thoughtful and durable.