Shots Across the Bow

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Trans Siberian Orchestra: Beethoven’s Last Night Tour

Most people, if they are familiar with Trans Siberian Orchestra at all, know them for their three albums of Christmas music, or that you tube video of the house with rocking Christmas lights. but what a lot of people don't know is that TSO has released two albums of non Christmas music and they are currently touring for one of them, Beethoven's Last Night. They came through Knoxville last night and put on a show like I've never seen before.

Yeah, there were lights and pyro and smoke and frickin' laser beams, as well as loud guitars, gorgeous voices and beautiful singers just like you'd expect at a rock concert, but the level of musicianship and the theatricality of the performers blew me away.

If you've never seen TSO perform, take the showmanship of Kiss without the makeup, the bombast of Meatloaf without the motorcycles, the lyrical depth of Paul Simon without the pretension, the musical virtuosity of the New York Philharmonic, without the stuffiness, throw it all into a blender with a dash of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, sprinkle it with Yes, and you are coming close to the TSO experience.

Lissa and I have seen the TSO Christmas show twice since we've been together, and would have seen them two more times except that they skipped Knoxville the last two times through. So, when we saw on the internet that TSO was coming through town with the Beethoven show, there really was no question about whether or not we'd be going. The only question was where we would be sitting and how early we'd get there.

The concert was produced by AC entertainment, and promoted by WIMZ, and as we walked towards the Civic Coliseum, I remarked to Lissa that it was probably the first time a lot of these folks had been to a concert promoted by WIMZ. On the other hand, given that WIMZ has the exact same playlist they were using when I was in high school, I could be mistaken in that assumption. (Since when did my music become "classic"?)

Unlike most music performed today, Beethoven's Last Night tells a story. The songs are woven together with a narration to tell the tale of Beethoven's last night on earth. It's a story of temptation and redemption, mistake made and overcome, and the eternal war between Good and Evil set to a thundering score that's part Beethoven, part Mozart, and all Paul O'Neill, the musical brain behind TSO who has been producing larger than life stage shows and recordings for decades. He's the guy Jim Steinman wants to be when he grows up. The short version of the story is that Beethoven is told that he will die on this very night, and the Devil appears, telling him that his soul is forfeit, but that if he agrees to allow the Devil to take all of his music away from the world forever, then his soul will be freed. This dilemma is what drives the music.

While BLN frames the songs with narration in a way similar to Christmas Eve, the feel of the two shows couldn't be more different. The Christmas material is light and playful; it lends itself to humor and there's an air of fun throughout the performance. BLN is many things, but fun is not a word that springs to mind. The themes are heavier and the music matches that tone, conveying the pain of loss and regret as well as the joy of transcending those emotions. It's uplifting and a joy to experience Ludwig's triumph but also draining. The songs generally aren't catchy little ditties that you find yourself humming after the show. Instead, they are more like arias, provoking emotion through the combination of the music and the lyric. In fact, the entire production felt more like an opera than a rock concert, despite the wailing guitars and the leather clad backup singers/dancers.

But this is not a bad thing. It's nice to be challenged every now and again, and the payoff is worth the effort.

When you go to see TSO, you expect stunning sound and visuals, and BLN does not disappoint. The stage was smaller than what they use for Christmas, resulting in a more intimate feel, but the video screens, lighting, lasers and fire pots filled the space, making sure your eyes were just as dazzled as your ears. Lissa is a synaesthete, which means she sees sounds (Nope, no drugs involved.) and she tells me that a TSO concert is the closest thing to what she experiences whenever she listens to complex music. Imporperly done, the amount of visual effects would distract from the music; here, it not just compliments the songs, it completes them.

One thing that's clearly evident is the joy the performers feel while they're on the stage. Violinist Roddy Chong covers the stage, leaping, bending, and stretching as he plays his instrument flawlessly. Keyboardist Vitalij Kuprij attacks the piano with the touch of a virtuoso and the energy of a raging river. Pitrelli leads the guitars, allowing them to shine, but reminding them that he has a few licks of his own.The energy coming off the stage is incredible, and you have no doubt that these people love what they do.

The BLN album runs about 70 minutes; during the show it runs just under 2 hours. But just because the album is done doesn't mean the music is. After finishing the BLN story, guitarist/musical director Al Pitrelli introduced the members of the group, then continued the show with a 45 minute excerpt from the newest TSO album, Night Castle

The music from Night Castle is just as hard and edgy, but not as heavy. In fact, I think the inclusion of the Night Castle material added some needed balance to the show, providing the audience with a way to release some of the tension built by BLN. And yes, I'll be going to see that show when it goes on tour.

Finally, after over two and a half hours of music, the concert was over. But not the show. TSO continued their tradition of coming out to meet the fans and sign autographs after the show was over. The physical stamina it would take to put that kind of energy out on the stage for over two hours, then spend an hour or so shaking hands with their fans before climbing on a bus to do it all over again tomorrow is staggering, yet these performers will continue this tour for another few weeks, and take a few short weeks off before they start preparing for this winter's Christmas tour.

If you haven't seen the Christmas show, get tickets and go. If you have, then I know you'll be going back. And if you get a chance to see BLN live, take it. Like I said, it's way different from the Christmas show, but every bit as entertaining.

Posted by Rich
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Better Half and I saw their Christmas show last time they were in town in Knoxville, and it pretty much ranks as the best live performance of any group I have had the privilege of seeing... On top of creating some outstanding music, as you say, it is abundantly obvious that the musicians absolutely love what they are doing, which just makes the shows that much more powerful.

I have to second Rich's recommendation - if you have not been to one of these shows, find a way to do so smile.
Posted by Linoge  on  04/23  at  08:56 AM

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