After 13 years, Trans-Siberian Orchestra founder Paul O’Neill is switching up the band’s routine.
From 1999 through 2011, the enormous metal-classical hybrid ensemble based its November and December tours around a narrated performance of its first album, the rock opera “Christmas Eve and Other Stories.” The wildly successful tours have grown each year to include new pyrotechnics, lasers, theatrical elements and elaborate stage sets. Since 2000, the band has split into two groups, TSO East and TSO West, to cover as much ground in the U.S. as possible.
This year, the band is still doing its traditional winter tour, which once again will be at the Times Union Center tonight. But the first half of the show will instead feature a narrated performance of the group’s 2004 album “The Lost Christmas Eve,” the third and final rock opera in the group’s “Christmas Trilogy.”
“Honestly, I never intended to tour the first album for 13 years in a row,” O’Neill said recently from New York City. “It’s like ‘The Nutcracker’ meets ‘A Christmas Carol’ — it becomes a tradition, and if it’s not broken, don’t fix it, I always say. But TSO doesn’t live in a vacuum, and I thought the story behind ‘The Lost Christmas Eve’ resonated with fans more.”
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Times Union Center, 51 S. Pearl St., Albany
How Much: $73, $63, $53, $43, $33
More Info: 487-2000, www.timesunioncenter-albany.com
The tour caps a busy year for TSO. This spring, the band toured the non-Christmas themed rock opera “Beethoven’s Last Night” (2000) for the third and final year in a row. O’Neill also has the band working on three new operas simultaneously — the long in the works “Romanov: When Kings Must Whisper,” “Gutter Ballet” and “Letters From the Labyrinth.” And in October, the band released the five-song EP “Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night).”
On top of that, the band had to rehearse “The Lost Christmas Eve” — and that was almost derailed by Hurricane Sandy. Prior to full production rehearsals in New York City, many of the band’s members were in Florida working on recording sessions for the coming albums, and with the hurricane coming everyone left for New York City.
“Everybody gets out of Florida, and then this thing called Sandy completely ignores Florida,” O’Neill said. “Some of the band members didn’t make the full production rehearsals until 10 days after they were supposed to be there. Some of our people, especially on Long Island, are still just getting their power back.”
The group pulled it all together before the tour started in November and managed to grow the show in other ways as well. This year, the actual stage contains hidden robotic arms that move giant set pieces, such as a clock and video screens, around on the stage.
Time for the clock
The clock in particular is something that O’Neill had been wanting in the stage set for a long time. With technological advances in materials, he was finally able to get it.
“I’ve wanted to use that since the early 2000s — it’s a huge clock with a pendulum that swings back and forth, perilously close to the band members, that bursts into flames, but it’s safe,” he said.
“But it was weighted so much — the weight of the pendulum swinging — that it was too dangerous. By 2012, the weight had gotten so light from the special composites that we are now able to make it work.”
There’s also the story of “The Lost Christmas Eve,” which is more specific than “Christmas Eve and Other Stories.” Focusing on themes of hope and redemption, the plot follows a New York City Wall Street banker on Christmas Eve, 40 years after he had abandoned his child. After adventures in a blues bar and a hotel, the banker is eventually reunited with his grown son.
“I’ve always been fascinated by December 24th — there’s something about this date that allows human beings to undo the mistakes they never thought they could,” O’Neill said. “People who haven’t talked to friends or co-workers in decades will pick up the phone, [realize] what they were fighting about is so silly and hit the reset button.”
The banker in TSO East is played by Rob Evan, who originated the role on the album. Other band members in TSO East include keyboardist Derek Wieland, in his third year as TSO East’s musical director, longtime guitarist Chris Caffery and drummer Jeff Plate.
There’s plenty coming up for the band when both the East and West versions wrap the winter tour on Dec. 30. One of the three operas the band is working on is due out in June — most likely “Romanov,” which was actually the first TSO project O’Neill began working on, while still a member of progressive metal band Savatage, in 1993. This one focuses on the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and was put on hold when Pace Theatrical Group bought the rights to turn it into a Broadway musical.
A new spring tour is also in the works, and as always O’Neill is looking for ways to make the show bigger and better.
“People need to interact with people, and that’s one of the nice things about TSO also, the diversity of the audience, from every economic class and every age group,” he said. “On the ‘Beethoven’s Last Night’ tour this year, at the very last show, this couple comes up to me — they’re in their late 20s, have a couple of kids. The husband goes, ‘Paul, I have to let you know, we were juniors in high school for our first date, which was one of your concerts.’ Automatically, that makes me really old, but also happy they’re coming back and bringing their kids. It’s been a wild, wacky ride.”