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Trans-Siberian Orchestra returns with more toys and holiday joy

WANT TO GO?

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

WHERE: Charleston Civic Center

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

TICKETS: $32.50, $42.50, $52.50 and $62.50

INFO: 800-745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com_______

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- They say "nothing succeeds like success," and few shows can claim the sort of long-standing commercial success that belongs to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

TSO founder Paul O'Neill said it's nice when you do well in the music business.

"But nobody cares if you bought a new island. They want to see what new toys you're bringing to the stage."

The rock concert producer promised West Virginia would see some of those new toys when the show that's part stadium rocker, part Broadway musical and part Las Vegas spectacle returns to the Charleston Civic Center on Wednesday to perform "The Lost Christmas Eve."

O'Neill said that, as usual, the goal is to blow the audience away. TSO tries to up the ante every year, with great music and the sort of over-the-top visuals few attempt any more.

"Every lighting company, every pyro company, every laser company in the world knows, if you come up with some incredibly great special effect that is insanely expensive, there's one band out there that's dumb enough to buy it. That's us."

Want an example?

A company hired by Michael Jackson's management built a set of powerful lasers specifically to capture the color blue.

O'Neill explained, "For lasers, green is the easiest color to produce, then red, but blue is a nightmare. But these guys got it."

And then Jackson died. His tour was canceled, and the company called TSO.

O'Neill said TSO took all the lasers.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra has a very different approach to how it puts together its shows. If the special-effects toys are like weapons, then the operation itself is a kind of a small army.

O'Neill certainly thinks of TSO that way sometimes -- and an army works as a machine, with each part contributing to the function of the whole.

Some parts, he acknowledged, are more important than others, though.

When new performers are brought on board, O'Neill said, he always asks them who's the most important person in the band?

Usually, they tell him it's the musical director or the lead singer or the lead guitarist, but O'Neill explained, "But the lead singer can be having an off-night, and we'll still blow everyone away. The lead guitarist can be having an off-night, and we'll still blow everyone away."

It's not the music director, either.

O'Neill tells them that everyone on that stage goes through the bottleneck of the guy who mixes the house sound for TSO.

"If Dave Whitman is having a bad night, we're dead."

Most of them, he said, have no idea who Dave Wittman is, but they know his work.

"The first album Dave worked on was Led Zeppelin's 'Houses of the Holy.'"

Whitman also mixed Billy Idol's hit, 'Rebel Yell,' recorded the demo record that got KISS its record deal and served as the house engineer at Electric Ladyland, Jimi Hendrix's recording studio.

"Dave has forgotten more cool rock 'n' roll things than I know."

TSO also has a first-rate crew, run by Elliot Salzeman.

Unlike other acts of similar size, O'Neill said TSO doesn't leapfrog its shows, meaning when the band is performing in one city, it doesn't have another crew setting up for the next show the next night someplace else.

"Good generals think strategy," O'Neill said. "Great generals think logistics."

Salzeman, he said, has rehearsed his road crew to work faster and more efficiently than other operations, which makes what TSO does possible without having to raise ticket prices.

Everyone with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra pushes themselves to do better. In fact, it's a running theme with them, he said: attempting the impossible.

And this year, they've lined up a particularly difficult task.

A couple of days after Christmas, TSO was supposed to have two days off before the New Year, but it picked up a show at the Brandenberg Gate in Berlin on New Year's Eve.

Instead of the time off, on Dec. 30, the band will come off the stage late that evening and hop an 11-hour flight to Germany.

"Everyone will sleep on the plane," O'Neill said.

The tricky part will be the time.

"I've done this with other bands before - Joan Jett, Aerosmith," he said. "But it's always play Europe, and then fly to America. The clock is on your side."

This time, it won't be. It will be seven hours later when the band arrives, which is barely enough time for soundcheck before the band has to go on stage to perform.

A lot can go wrong, but the pay-off is huge. The estimated crowd for that night will be more than a million people. It's a once-in-a-lifetime gig.

"And a great way to kick off the new year."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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