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Trans-Siberian Orchestra cleans out its "Attic" for this year's holiday shows

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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There were still be a great number of explosions. Lengthy guitar solos. Instrumental bombast.

But Trans-Siberian Orchestra has changed its ways somewhat this year.

The group, which has sold more than 10 million copies of its five rock opera albums and an EP since 1993 and played to more than 11 million fans during the past 15 years, is spending the holiday season playing its 1998 piece "The Christmas Attic" in its entirety for the first time ever. The album itself is popular enough, having sold nearly two million copies in the U.S., but TSO founder Paul O'Neill says external pressure brought the troupe -- which tours in two separate companies -- back into the "Attic."

"We never intended to do (1996's) 'Christmas Eve and Other Stories' for 13 years in a row. It just sort of happened...It's not broken, don't fix it," explains O'Neill, 58, who started TSO as a "rock theater" concept after working in the pit band of the Broadway hit "Hair" and as a writer-producer with bands such as Aerosmith, Badlands and Savatage.

"But two years ago I said, 'We're gonna risk it' and we did (2004's) 'The Lost Christmas Eve;' that did phenomenally, but it set loose a deluge of fan mail saying, 'When are you gonna do 'The Christmas Attic,' which is the only rock opera from the trilogy which we've never done live. We decided we would debut the 'The Christmas Attic' album this year, which would be a perfect way to end 2014."

Being able to do something new with TSO, meanwhile, is gratifying for O'Neill, who claims he's still grappling with the project's success over the years.

"It's a little bit mind-boggling," says O'Neill, a self-proclaimed "pyro whore" who regularly battles with TSO's business management over his ever-escalating ambitions for visual spectacle. "Never could I have imagined it would have gone and gotten this big.

"My personal theory is it was being in the right place at the right time. It was easier for us to jump the generation gap between all the people before us. There's something magical about watching a 15-year-old kid get into an Al Pitrelli guitar solo and his father jamming out there with him. That's (proof) enough time has gone by that everybody has rock in common now, which simply didn't exist when it was born in the 60s."

Besides maintaining TSO's status as an annual holiday touring titan, O'Neill has been forging new vistas. The troupe has been touring successfully in Europe, and it played to an estimated two million fans on New Year's Day 2014 in Berlin. During June it will play its first outdoor festival date at the Wacken Open Air Festival in Germany.

Meanwhile, O'Neill and company have three more rock operas in motion. He says "Romanov: When Kings Must Whisper" about the 1917 Russian Revolution, is "about 75 percent done." "Letters From the Labyrinth" is "probably 90 percent done, and "The Path of the Fairytale Moon" is just getting started. At least one, O'Neill notes, has to be finished before the Wacken show, so "basically, whichever one gets done first" will be fastracked.

"Writing great songs is only half the battle," he explains. "Then you need to come up with the right vocalist to do the alchemy to bring it to life. Basically we have all the (musical) tracks down, and we're going through the singers, and as we get the right singer for the right song, that goes in the can and the first one that's done gets turned in."

Also on the TSO docket is a live production of 2009's platinum "Night Castle." But, as with all things TSO, don't hold your breath.

"That's the one I'm dying to do, but it has to be done right," says O'Neill, adding that planning is "about 60 percent done" but is being held up by a SPECIAL special effect -- a large-scale version of the Times Square electronic ticker tape message board that has to be approved by the government.

"We've been designing it for, like, the last five years," O'Neill says of the production. "It's the most ambitious, especially because it starts on a beach and goes all around the world. I want it to take your breath away, just blow every sense you have -- which, I know, is how I feel about everything, but nobody seems to mind once we actually do it, you know?

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 27

The Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills.

Tickets are $34-$74.

Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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