Twenty years ago, in a creative big bang between classical music and heavy metal, and holiday pomp and (eventually) head-blowing pyrotechnics, Trans-Siberian Orchestra was born.
Since its inaugural album, “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” and first tour in 1999, TSO has played for 13 million fans. That includes packed crowds every year here in Buffalo. As the band heads to town for a pair of Dec. 4 shows at KeyBank Center, here’s a look at why TSO has endured.
TSO goes where others won’t.
In musical circles, classical compositions are often considered sacred.
“Nobody usually dares to touch those famous classical pieces,” said Mee Eun Kim, a TSO keyboardist for 16 years.
But for TSO composers, which include leading founder Paul O’Neill and his longtime co-producer, Williamsville native Robert Kinkel, classical music is like clay. It can be molded into something original and cool.
“It’s almost a mischievous kind of confidence, the way they were able to take that music and turn it into the hard rock stuff,” Trans-Siberian guitarist Chris Caffrey, pointing to compositions like “Mozart/Figaro” from TSO’s 2000 album, “Beethoven’s Last Night.”
“That stuff was the metal music when it came out, really,” Caffrey said. “These bombastic classical pieces, they were the real heavy music of the time.”
TSO is just continuing the renegade tradition.
TSO brings families together.
Caffrey has been with TSO since the beginning — and so have some fans.
“I look into these audiences and there are some people that have been going to these shows for close to 20 years,” he said.
From his vantage point as the show’s East Coast host, Caffrey sees evolution. Some of it is tinged with sorrow: “The next year their wife is not there, or their mother is not there,” he said.
Some is colored with reconciliation: “A lot of these families were brought back together through our concerts. We have people that say ‘I haven’t spoken to my dad in 15, 20 years and we decided to go see the show. And now we go every year thanks to you guys.’”
The reason, Caffrey said, is the message. The stories in O’Neill’s songs are uplifting and ageless. “Paul’s lyrics will relate to you when you’re 15 and relate to you when you’re 50 and relate to you when you’re 90,” he said.
TSO seizes talent.
With two bands (East Coast and West Coast) of 25 performers each, TSO is on a constant search for talent. When it’s found, it’s seized, even from the most unexpected places. Singer and guitarist Kayla Reeves is a prime example.
“We found her in the foster-care system – the orphanages – in Texas,” said TSO founder Paul O’Neill. “She was 17. I normally would never take anyone under 18, but better us than the foster care system.”
Reeves, now 24, is a TSO veteran.
“To watch a young kid like that go from this nervous little petite thing to this panther than prowls the deck, and owns the flight deck, it’s a rush,” O’Neil said.
Not just for him; for audiences, too.
TSO lives in a state of healthy dissatisfaction.
Two decades into its existence, the TSO formula works predictably well. The first half of the show is a story told through narration and music. The second half is fiery but festive rock show, complete with pyrotechnics and rising platforms.
The story, the music, the casting, the staging – it all works. Which means O’Neill just might switch it up. Or add something in. He’s not saying – he may not even know – but he’s dropping hints at changes to come.
“As TSO is now becoming more and more on autopilot, I think it’s time for us to experiment and do something new and different,” he said. “Come January we’ll figure out what that is.”
What: Trans-Siberian Orchestra Presents The Ghosts of Christmas Eve
When: 3 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4
Where: KeyBank Center
Info: 888-223-6000 or tickets.com