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TSO stays true to its founders vision -- "bigger, better and crazier"
"Pressure and emotion" defined Trans-Siberian Orchestra's 2017 tour — the first after founder and visionary Paul O'Neill died unexpectedly that April at the age of 61.
But the operation he founded was, and still is, driven by a mission to maintain and build upon what O'Neill started back in 1996, with a concept and an early hit song in "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24."
"He had this idea, and we were just privileged and blessed to be along for the ride and to be part of it," says Al Pitrelli, an original TSO cohort and musical director of one of the two troupes that travel the country annually each holiday season. "We watched it kind of grow up, and to have the carpet pulled from beneath us so suddenly and tragically last year really just put us all in a different mindset.
"Paul had always said we want this thing to live long past all of us. I don't think any of us were prepared for that to occur so soon, but we were kind of handed that task. And with his family steering the ship and their guidance we kind of really hunkered down last year, even more so than usual, to make it the best it could possibly be. And the fact that folks ... reacted so well to it, and here we are this year exceeding last year's ticket sales, just means that again, Paul was right, as usual. This will live past all of us."
TSO, in fact, had a record year in 2017, selling nearly a million tickets for a $61.5 million gross. That brought the career total to more than 15 million fans since touring started in 1999, grossing more than $675 million — with more than $15 million raised for a variety of charities.
"Last year there was pressure, and there was emotion, and going out there and proving that we can do this," longtime TSO drummer Jeff Plate explains. "Paul taught us all a lot. So now it was time for us to actually put this thing in motion and go out and do it and make the man proud, make his family proud, and make our audience proud because they've been with us for over 20 years."
That mission accomplished, TSO is moving into a next phase of sorts. This year's tour, which began its 65-city run during mid-November and wraps Dec. 30, again spotlights the 1999 album and TV special "The Ghosts of Christmas Eve," played in its entirety, plus a sampling of other favorites from TSO's seven albums and one EP. The show is another visual extravaganza of pyrotechnics and special effects, continuing O'Neill's predilection for high-concept and state-of-the-art rock 'n' roll spectacle.
"In '99 we started out with one 24-foot box truck and five machines and a couple of lights. ... Now we're up to 20 (trucks) and nine buses, just for the crew," Pitrelli, 56, says. It's just gotten bigger and better and crazier every year. You see it ... and you turn into a 16-year-old at your first rock concert all over again, every time."
The question for TSO now is what will become of the projects O'Neill left unfinished. Pitrelli estimates there are up to five in motion and in some degree of completion. Before his death O'Neill spoke about "Romanov: When Kings Must Whisper," about the 1917 Russian Revolution, and "The Path of the Fairytale Moon," among others. He also hoped to create stage productions for nonholiday TSO albums such as "Night Castle" and "Letters From The Labyrinth," and to adapt at least one of the works into a Broadway musical.
"We actually started kind of digging into it," Pitrelli says — speaking from TSO's recording studio in Tampa, Fla. "There was a lot of material that Paul had written with his daughter ... just so much material that hasn't been recorded yet. There's plenty of stuff taking shape. No releases in mind — nothing like that. But I'm really glad that it's starting to happen and it's exciting to see some of these things come to life.
"I mean, there's songs that we've been talking about for 15 years that now it's like, 'OK, now they're going to see the light of day.'"
Trans-Siberian Orchestra performs at 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 29, at Little Caesars Arena, 2645 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets start at $48.25. 313-471-7000 or 313Presents.com.
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