TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA - There's Something You Should Know About Last Night...
April 6, 2012, 8 years ago
By Carl Begai
In North America the TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA has become as traditional at Christmas as Santa Claus, coloured lights and holiday parking. Even if you’ve never attended one of their seasonal shows – which usually hits a city near you anywhere from November through January – you’ve definitely heard of them, as the TSO rock opera format appeals to people from all walks of life, to everyone from children to the elderly. Plain and simple, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra has proven for well over a decade that you don’t need to be metal to ride this ride, regardless of the outfit’s SAVATAGE-rooted history.
Producer/composer Paul O’Neill is known for pushing the envelope with every project he devises. It was his collaborative efforts with Savatage frontman Jon Oliva in the late '80s, in fact, that slowly but surely transformed the legendary metal band into something much more theatrical in nature, which eventually spawned the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. And while TSO established itself as a Christmas-themed project when it launched in 1996, O'Neill got rid of the sleigh in 2000 for Beethoven's Last Night, an album telling the fictitious tale of legendary composer Ludwig van Beethoven's last night alive. TSO finally toured for the album in North America in 2010, went to Europe the following year, and 2012 sees the band on the road again, this time supporting a fully narrated re-release of Beethoven's Last Night.
Guitarist Chris Caffery, a long time member of Savatage and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, offered his views on the current Beethoven's Last Night tour versus the annual winter shows during some rare and fleeting post-soundcheck downtime:“It’s a very different vibe. The winter tour has the holiday and runaway theme to the story line, the music marries that story. This tour is the complete Beethoven’s Last Night album, and it’s not like the winter show isn’t a rock concert, but the Beethoven show has a darker feel because of the story and the theme. Beethoven is battling the devil to save his soul and his music, it's a pretty intense story. For me personally it feels more like I’m performing a rock concert because of the way the songs and the album is structured. It’s a little bit more to where my roots were when I performed growing up. I’ve been on stage playing a heavy style of progressive and hard rock music since I was a kid. So the songs like ‘Misery’ are a lot similar to my roots. I think people really enjoy it because in a lot of these cities we’re giving them something they’ve never seen live before. Everybody that comes to see the show tells us they enjoy it as much as anything they’ve seen by us before.”
This seems to be the case even though the Trans-Siberian Orchestra hit the road for Beethoven’s Last Night in March, barely three months after the Christmas tour wrapped up. It’s another full-blown O’Neill audio-visual spectacle, but the numbers indicate that the fans are far from being TSO-ed out.“It’s pretty crazy,” says Caffery, “because we’re getting a tremendous number of people on this tour that come out and say they’ve never seen TSO before. We’re doing a lot of different markets on this tour that we didn’t do last year. The winter show is so huge that some of the buildings can’t even hold the weight of the lights and gear we have. With this tour we have the opportunity to go to some of the smaller cities to the areas that we couldn’t fit the winter shows in. We’re getting into places where we do find it makes a difference for people that have to drive for over an hour to get to a show. If the show is only 20 minutes away, the people that couldn’t come out to see us before are coming out now.”
“There are a lot of reasons why this Beethoven tour is really exciting for us, and I think that’s one of the biggest because we get out there to see people that haven’t seen us once in out 16 year history. It’s nice to know people aren’t TSO-ed out.”
“It's funny, because there are some people that just saw us in December, but I guess it's like when I was a kid and somebody like Judas Priest or Iron Maiden was coming to town. I'd go and see them twice if the concert was within driving distance. If a band like Pink Floyd was going to come through and do The Wall one time and then come back and do Dark Side Of The Moon three months later, I'd be going to see both shows if I could. After being around for 16 years, I think the Trans-Siberian Orchestra has established itself as something that if you haven't seen it and you've heard about it, you want to go and check it out. And the people that have seen it know they'll get a great show.”
The actual Beethoven production is scaled back compared to the Christmas tour, but Caffery makes it clear there's nothing watered down about the current shows.“Paul was really trying to create the rock theatre thing,” he explains. “The stage itself is a little bit more intimate because I think the focus is even more on the story compared to the winter show. There are still the lasers and the fire and the lights, it’s still visually spectacular. And the majority of the show is the Beethoven material; that's what we concentrate on. It's not the same show as the winter tour but it's the same band, and it still follows Paul's idea of giving people the best show possible. No matter what the risks are economically, I know that Paul does not let this thing do five minutes on stage without having the best possible show for people. He's brilliantly crazy.”
Asked if he sees a difference in the demographic with regards to the Beethoven’s Last Night crowds and the Christmas tour audiences, Caffery admits he hasn’t noticed.“It looks pretty much the same from the stage (laughs). I still see the kids and the older people and everybody in between. I don't really notice any kind of a difference in the people that turn up. The TSO audience is pretty diversified on either tour.”
As a child of the rock and metal world, where “Shit Happens” is the rule for any given show - by accident and design - one wouldn't figure Caffery for someone interested in sticking to a specific setlist and choreography night after night (plus matinées in the winter). Sure, it's a lucrative day job, but there's has to be a certain amount of boredom that comes with playing the same songs over and over, night after night and year after year.“I don't get bored playing music," Caffery insists. "I have my friends in this band and we get to travel the world, riding around and playing music. If I get bored of something like this, I shouldn't be doing it in the first place. Regardless of what songs I'm playing, it's cool, and these are our songs. I got the chance to write them, record them, and be a part of TSO. I've been working with Paul for close to 26 years now, so if anything I'm proud of it. Bored? I get bored if I'm sitting at home. I like my time at home, but I don't get bored of playing music in front of people.”
“No matter what you're doing musically there's going to be some form of repetition,” he adds. “If I was Angus Young, I couldn't picture myself getting tired playing 'Back In Black' in front of 80,000 people every night (laughs).”
- Chris Caffery photo by Bob Carey
- live stage and Paul O'Neill photos by Mark Weiss