For my 30th birthday, April and I went to Taft Theatre in downtown Cincinnati to see Trans-Siberian Orchestra kick off their first non-Christmas tour. We sat fairly close--some of the best balcony seats--close enough to clearly see the performer's faces, even with my poor eyesight. Our small crowd of about 2000 people was the first to hear TSO perform the entire "Beethoven's Last Night" album live. It's one of my favorite albums (in my top 20).
Their Christmas tours are played at much bigger venues, attract much larger crowds, and have more performers. The Christmas tours also dilute some of the TSO greatness, as they hire extra musicians so they can run an East tour and a West tour simultaneously.
Not so here. This was TSO at its finest. I've seen ex-Savatage members Al Pitrelli (guitar) and Johnny Lee Middleton (drums) perform several times during TSO's Christmas West tours, but this was the first time I'd seen ex-Savatage members Chris Caffery (guitar) and Jeff Plate (drums). Ex-Savatage producer/writer Paul O'Neill also made a brief appearance. I say ex-Savatage because, because although Savatage might not technically be dead, they haven't performed live or put out an album for ten years. TSO has largely replaced Savatage.
The band played the entire rock opera "Beethoven's Last Night," with a narrator explaining a bit of the story in-between songs. The narrator was good, but I knew the story well enough that I wish they would have left him out and stuck to the music. The music itself was incredible. Six talented vocalists, two piano/keyboard players, and an electric violinist added some additional flair to the traditional guitar/bass/drums. Jon Oliva, the heart and soul of Savatage, was missing in action--the songs he sang on this album were performed quite well by another vocalist. The other vocalists were also excellent, although I wish the song "Who is this Child" had been sung with less theatrics and more melody (and more like the version on the album).
I'm not sure how to explain how it is being in a concert like this. It's intense. I was grinning like a madman through half the songs. And when they finished the album, and after Al Pitrelli introduced the band members, they played a couple of Savatage songs.
The first, "Believe," is one of my top-ten songs. The only downside was that Jon Oliva wasn't singing it (although his replacement did a very good job). It's an intense gorgeous song. Originally released on Savatage's album "Streets: A Rock Opera," it was recently re-done for TSO's latest album, "Night Castle."
The other was an instrumental pulled mainly from Savatage's "Dead Winter Dead," the greatest album of all time.
And of course, lasers, projected pictures in the background, and stage fog all contributed to the atmosphere (although I personally think that lasers are overrated and should've been left out).
The concert lasted about 3 hours (although I did the math, and the actual time the band played music was only about 1.5 hours--the album, which is 1.25 hours, plus a couple of additional songs).
Overall, though, seeing the first live performance of this album (and hearing "Believe,") made this the best concert I've ever been to, and contributed to making this landmark birthday the best birthday I've ever had.