at the PNC Arena, Raliegh, NC, USA, December 13, 2023

TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA (Live at the PNC Arena, Raliegh, NC, USA, December 13, 2023)
Photo: Scott Jeslis

Like Your Favorite Concert T-Shirt… Comfortable And Always Makes You Feel Good

No doubt many of you reading this now are thinking, after being on the road for almost 25 years with essentially no new music since 2015 what does the Trans-Siberian Orchestra have to offer live? Certainly, their shows have to be predictable and instant replays of the shows from years before, one might think. While a small part of this might hold, there is no discounting the fact that year after year TSO’s shows still hold a high production value and a walloping pack of a punch of Classical-based Metal! Spinning off from the US East Coast-based band Savatage one has to wonder what TSO would sound like even more live if Savatage guitarist Criss Oliva was still with us today.

Since the 2000s the band’s live performances have become synonymous with the Christmas Holiday season. The band continues to pack in major venues with fans of all ages, and many of them are repeat “customers”! On this Wednesday night on a chilly evening in Raleigh, North Carolina USA TSO managed to deliver holiday fanfare and came close to bringing down the walls of the PNC Arena!

A One Night Stand!

TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA (Live at the PNC Arena, Raliegh, NC, USA, December 13, 2023)
Joel Hoekstra (Guitar), Tony Dickinson (Bass), Roddy Chong (Violin), Chris Caffery (Guitar).
Photo: Scott Jeslis.

TSO being in Raleigh, North Carolina was considered a “night off” as the band only had one show on the itinerary today. In the majority of the cities they play, they schedule a 3 PM and a second 7 PM show! North Carolina is located on the East Coast of the United States so on this night Raleigh was treated to TSO’s East Coast “division”. And any Metalheads in attendance should have been plenty happy as this touring group included three members of Savatage as well as one “Whitesnake”, a Symphony X-er, and an American Idol rocker!

The show starts like all the others with Chris Caffery addressing the audience wearing the jersey of that city’s “home team”. He’s joined on stage by members of a local radio station and together they donate part of the proceeds from tonight’s show to a local charity. It’s wonderful seeing the band continuing to give back to local communities, and they do this in more ways than one. TSO also employs local musicians from the area where the show is played to fill out their orchestral section.

Sit With Me As I Tell A Tale, A Tale Of The Ghosts Of Christmas Eve

The first surprise of the night was the opening track of “The Hourglass” which is a Savatage cover off of their 1997 album The Wake of Magellan. While a lot of the vocalists took part Zak Stevens, who originally sang on that album, was predominant in the mix. His vocals, occupied by background videos of the Magellan, had easily made the Savatage fans in attendance take notice!

What has become commonplace over the last several years is the setlist having the first half of the two-hour set dedicated to The Ghosts of Christmas Eve which focuses on recreating most of the musical moments from the 1999 TV special of the same name. Tonight was no different. This included many selections from the first three Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas albums. The chosen tracks were interlaced with live storytelling moments by Bryan Hicks, once again, and included video segment backdrops from the TV special.

Notable vocal performances were ex-American idol rocker Caleb Johnson singing “Good King Joy” and Symphony X/Adenaline Mob frontman Russell Allen singing “Christmas Dreams”.

Kicking It Up And Adding Surprises!

The second half of the show typically kicks up the voltage, and fire, as the whole stage and light show experience is taken to “new heights”, literally! The last hour was adorned with ramps ascending into the air, over the main floor crowd, and guitarists playing on lifts. This half of the show is introduced by Chris Caffery once again and is designated “The Best Of TSO”. Chris also mentions some songs being included that we haven’t heard in a while, and he was right.

One of these rarities was “Christmas Nights In Blue” sung by Russell Allen (Symphony X, Adrenaline Mob). This track is from 2004’s The Lost Christmas Eve album and has a traditional Blues Rock feel to it. While the performances were great on it, especially by Allen, it just felt out of place with the otherwise classical-inspired tracks of the evening and most likely caught a lot of the audience off-guard.

There was no lack of banging heads and air guitars during this portion of the set especially when it included epic classically induced Heavy Metal instrumentals like “A Mad Russian’s Christmas”, “Wizards In Winter” and arguably one of the heaviest riffs ever in Beethoven-inspired, “Requiem (The Fifth)”.

TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA (Live at the PNC Arena, Raliegh, NC, USA, December 13, 2023)
TSO 12-13-23 Raleigh, NC Chris Caffrey “On Fire”.
Photo: Scott Jeslis.

The second half was also heightened with an outstanding vocal performance by ex-Savatage vocalist, Zak Stevens on “This Isn’t What We Meant” which was a heartfelt performance dedicated to Trans-Siberian Orchestra visionary, Paul O’Neill (R.I.P.). The track is from Savatage’s 1995 album Dead Winter Dead which Paul had a hand in writing. With the song including lyrics like,

“We dared to ask for more
But that was long before
The nights began to burn
You would have thought we’d learned”

one could sense how relevant today these lyrics might be.

Stamina To The Maximus!

It can never be overstated by the stage presence put forth by guitarists Chris Caffery (Savatage), Joel Hoekstra (ex-Night Ranger, Whitesnake), violinist Roddy Chong, and Tony Dickinson on bass. These guys cover the entirety of this enormous stage set running from end to end, up ramps, into the audience, and treating fans to classic Metal guitarist poses! Anyone who sees this show and can take the stance that musicians are not to be considered athletes needs to reconsider! It was also nice to see Jeff Plate from Savatage pounding out the drums. This isn’t to take away from any of the other performers including keyboardists, singers, string ensemble, etc. You’d be hard-pressed to find talent here not worthy of your praise!

TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA (Live at the PNC Arena, Raliegh, NC, USA, December 13, 2023)
TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA (Live at the PNC Arena, Raliegh, NC, USA, December 13, 2023) Closing.
Photo: Scott Jeslis

Having seen the band five times since their debut in 1999, and back-to-back for the last two years, it can still be said that each performance, even if you’ve seen it before, still contains the energy, awe, and intensity of the first time seeing a Trans-Siberian Orchestra experience! Whether you’re a longtime fan, a newcomer, a Metal Head, a Senior Citizen, or even a young adult you’ll leave feeling entertained, ecstatic, and exhausted from what you’ve just witnessed! Still a highly recommended “must-see” experience even after twenty-four years and counting!


  • Scott Jeslis

    Scott is one of the partners at Metal Express Radio. He handles a lot of Metal Express Radio's public relations, screening of new music and radio scheduling. On occasion, he also does reviews and interviews. He has been a proud member of the Metal Express Radio crew since 2004.

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