At The Conseco Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN, USA, November 29, 2004

Believe it or not, Metalheadz, there indeed is a Santa Claus, and he exists via the band called Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO). TSO offers the unique gift of providing their audience an entertainment alternative capable of satisfying a Heavy Metal fan’s insatiable need for musical power amid a positive-outlook Christmas theme that is sure to lift attendees’ spirits and elevate the holiday perspective of even the surliest Scrooges.

At The Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA (possibly the best indoor concert venue in the world) on November 29th, TSO unveiled their 150-minute Christmas 2004 Concert to an appreciative and exceptionally responsive crowd of approximately 4000. Those familiar with TSO know their light/laser stage show is about as intricate, precise, and variable as it gets. If you’re not familiar with the band, TSO, founded by Paul O’Neill of Savatage acclaim, is manned by a host of musicians, including Savatage members Al Pitrelli (TSO West), Johnny Lee Middleton (TSO West), Jeff Plate (TSO East), and Chris Caffery (TSO East), and embraces the basic premise of bringing a Rock Opera format to a Christmas setting.

The show itself is divided into 2 parts, with the 1st part essentially following their first album, Christmas Eve & Other Stories, from beginning to end, and the 2nd part a mix from TSO’s other 3 albums — The Christmas Attic (1998), Beethoven’s Last Night (2000), and The Lost Christmas Eve (2004) –- along with a few change-ups, including an “out of the blue” cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” and a “hot-off-the-press” rendition of a song to be released as part of TSO’s next CD (to be titled Night Castle). Funny, but this track of the future sounded like the antithesis of a Christmas song … instead it much more had the feel, especially vocally, of descending into Dante’s 7th level of hell! Regardless, the audience absolutely loved it and expressed enthusiastic support when Pitrelli prompted the crowd to express their opinion.

The stage was configured with total blackness … a convincing “night” setting, with all of the musicians, vocalists, and narrator decked out in formal black & white attire. This configuration made for an awesome backdrop to “sell” the starry nighttime sky concept, and to accentuate the plethora of lighting, laser, and fireworks displays utilized throughout the show. Quite frankly, it must cost a fortune to fund, maintain, and setup this stage show … you’d be hard-pressed to find anything more spectacular anywhere in this day and age.

Sound-wise, TSO was equally as stellar. Although not loud enough to cause your ears to ring afterwards, the mix of the sound was as “perfect” as a live show is capable of coming through. There was power to the guitars, pop to the bass, thunder to the percussion kit, precision to the keyboards, and elegance to the strings and flute. The venue certainly had something to contribute to this, but the sound engineers did a remarkable job.

Individually, Pitrelli showed he’s profoundly more than a one-dimensional Metal guitarist. He essentially was the “leader” of the band during the show, and his performance was completely impressive, along with his ability to fire up the crowd with his passionate solos. Pitrelli’s wife, Jane Mangini (no Mob ties in either side of the family, to be sure), was equally as stellar and flawless, showing the talent to play at mock speed while weaving through her various keyboards like a master artist of tapestry. Although every one of the male and female vocalists were impressive, the gals stole the show with both their beauty and outstanding range and stage presence. All of the songs by TSO tested the meddle of each, but every time the ladies met the difficult challenges head-on, especially the diminutive Jill Gioia, who can rightly claim to be the most talented female vocalist in the music industry today.

This was truly a show for all ages, and the demographic was generally very different from what you’d see at a Savatage show. You may wonder how a band established and manned by persons with Metal backgrounds can relate to and gain the respect of a crowd comprised of persons between 8 and 80 years of age … according to Pitrelli in a pre-show interview, the answer is simple: “Play well, give the crowd their money’s worth, and the rest will take care of itself.”

Pitrelli’s credo held true on this night. Should TSO’s Christmas Concert Extravaganza set up shop in your neck of the woods, make it a point to check them out – and don’t be afraid to bring along your spouse, children, parents, and right-wing neighbors to the show! All will be amazed at the superb musicianship and astounded by the stage show … and certainly none will leave disappointed.


  • Dan Skiba

    Dan is a former partner at Metal Express Radio, and also served as a reviewer, photographer and interviewer on occasions. Based out of Indianapolis, USA he was first turned on to Hard Rock music in the mid-1970s when he purchased Deep Purple's Machine Head as his first album. He was immediately enthralled with the powerful guitar sound and pronounced drumbeat, and had to get more! His collection quickly expanded to include as many of Heavy Rock bands of the time that he could get his hands on, such as Ted Nugent, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath, to name just a few.

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