Review: Trans-Siberian Orchestra continues ‘Ghosts of Christmas Eve’ tradition at homecoming to Amalie Arena

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click to enlarge Review: Trans-Siberian Orchestra continues ‘Ghosts of Christmas Eve’ tradition at homecoming to Amalie Arena
Photo by Phil DeSimone
“Everyone in this building misses somebody, especially when we’re getting close to Christmas. There’s kinda no way around it,” guitarist Al Pitrelli reminded a matinee crowd at Amalie Arena Sunday afternoon. He was in the middle of his tribute to TSO founder Paul O’Neill, who died of an accidental overdose in a Tampa hotel room some five years ago, and would then announce that while Paul’s spirit would definitely continue to linger, his family—including his widow Desiree—was actually in the building.

When O’Neill died, it wasn’t like Bob Saget’s death, in that he was on tour in a city he didn’t call home. Trans-Siberian Orchestra came together in 1996 in Tampa, and was established from the remnants of Tarpon Springs-based metal band Savatage. It has also been said that not only did the symphonic rock group never play a club or bar in its existence, but almost immediately before the first tour, O’Neill put together two touring groups—one for each coast of the U.S.—due to ticket demand being through the roof.

Almost every year since 2015, TSO’s schtick has been centered around performing its 1999 rock opera The Ghosts of Christmas Eve. After a three-song intro (“Fate,” “Prometheus,” “The Lost Christmas Eve,”) narrator Phillip Brandon headed to the forefront to launch his annual tale about a young girl who left home “for reasons unknown.” Considered the first half of the two-and-a-half hour light show, lasers, as expected, flashed all across the arena, as well as fake snow (“First Snow,”) and every inanimate object onstage that wasn’t an instrument had a screen facing the crowd of 12,770.

Onstage was a ten-piece vocal ensemble—which usually featured one to three members stepping away to take on primary vocals—, as well as a handful of Florida-based violinists tucked away into the back. Also present was full-time lead violinist Asha Mevlana, who would join guitarist Angus Clark, St. Pete-based bassist Johnny Lee Middleton, and a few vocalists to rise on platforms on the main stage (“Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24),”) and later, close to the soundboard in the back (“A Last Illusion.”)

Once The Ghosts of Christmas Eve concluded, Pitrelli headed for centerstage to introduce vocalists and the violinists in the back. He would also acknowledge those serving in the armed forces, and the stage crew working tirelessly to bring this gig to life at the end of each year.

“As some of you know, this is a hometown show for us,” Pitrelli explained. “Fists in the air, smiles, no masks!”
click to enlarge Review: Trans-Siberian Orchestra continues ‘Ghosts of Christmas Eve’ tradition at homecoming to Amalie Arena (2)
Photo by Phil DeSimone

The second segment—which was promised to have more special effects and action than the first one did—was more of a “best of” affair. Vocalist Chloe Lowery—another Flo-Grown member—absolutely slayed a fifteen-second high note on “For The Sake of Our Brother,” which only co-featured keyboardist Jane Mangini pounding on the keys.

But the spectacle hit its absolute peak during “Child of the Night,” when Asha Mevlana and Angus Clark would enter a glowing V-shaped platform that would rise back directly above the crowd. No matter how much it hurt your neck, all it did was add onto the already inimitable spectacle that TSO manages to pull off every year.

At this moment, the new kids who caught the group for the first time yesterday probably already plan to do one of two things next year: Come back next year and be a “repeat offender,” as Al Pitrelli put it, or just stick to Mannheim Steamroller’s less intense Christmas gigs, with less special effects.

I’m on team V-shaped platform, truth be told.

About The Author

Josh Bradley

Josh Bradley is Creative Loafing Tampa's resident live music freak. He started freelancing with the paper in 2020 at the age of 18, and has since covered, announced, and previewed numerous live shows in Tampa Bay. Check the music section in print and online every week for the latest in local live music.
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