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TELL ME A little Q&A

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra has brought sexy back (I'm sorry - sexyback!) to holiday music.

Maybe that's why the group's bold sounds appeal to so many. This isn't Perry Como or Burl Ives crooning carols. No, this is a laser-guided extravaganza that features everything from pounding drums and soaring guitars to a string section and vocals.

That's to say nothing of the pyrotechnics. Smoke machines, special effects and triumphant stomps through holiday classics have helped make the group so popular that there are now two simultaneous national tours. The TSO is performing two concerts, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday in HSBC Arena.

On keyboards, Williamsville native Bob Kinkel is one of the key components in the group. Kinkel recently took a few minutes out of an extremely busy schedule - November and December are, after all, the peak months in the TSO world - to discuss the group, and its upcoming Buffalo concerts.

>How did you get started in music, and how did you end up in the Trans-Siberian Orchestra?

I took piano lessons for a couple of years when I was younger - the basics. Then, I started teaching myself in high school, where I played in the band and sang. I bought Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Pictures at an Exhibition" and my teacher said, "You know, that's classical music." I said, "It is?" Later, I ended up going to New York City, and I decided I really wanted to do recording. I got in at the Record Plant and started working with all these amazing artists. I met [Trans-Siberian Orchestra creator and lyricist] Paul O'Neill in 1986 when he was recording at the Record Plant. In the early 1990s, we started working together, and from there the TSO was spawned. Paul's an amazing guy and we work well together.

>How would you describe the TSO live experience?

It's been described as "Phantom of the Opera" and the Who combined with the lights of a Pink Floyd show. The first half is a story with narration, and the second half is a full-on rock show. This is the best band I've ever worked with, and we've been playing together for a very long time. There are 23 people on stage - guitars, keyboards, singers, a string section, a narrator. There is an incredible story and lyrics, and music that ranges from familiar Christmas carols and classical pieces to our original stuff.

Even if you've never seen it before, there's always something that feels familiar. In the audience, we have everyone from 4- and 5-year-olds to people in their 80s. You can see everybody together - so many people have made this a holiday tradition.

>Is the busy holiday touring season difficult in terms of set-up and scheduling?

You've got eight semi trucks, lighting crews, laser crews and pyrotechnic crews - all this technical stuff has to happen perfectly. Sometimes, I come in early just to watch them all set up. To have an arena full of people keeps you going. A lot of the time, we play four shows in two days, but it's all worth it. We keep expanding, and we're doing 116 shows between the two tours. We're also working on a new, nonholiday CD, "Night Castle." We should have it done next year, and then we're hoping to tour in the summer.

>Are there any concerts that stand out in your memory? What's it like to play in your hometown?

They're all special in different ways. Cleveland was great this year. We had Ian Hunter of Mott the Hoople come on stage to sing "All the Young Dudes." Seeing 14,000 people singing together was amazing. But all the places we play are great. The crowd in Buffalo was amazing last year - it's our biggest-growing show by far. Two years ago, we played at Shea's. Last year, we played at HSBC Arena. This year, we're doing two shows at HSBC Arena. So I'm very proud to say I'm from Buffalo.

- Christopher Schobert, Special to The News

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