TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA – Oracle Arena, Berkeley, Oakland, CA 2018-11-28

I turned 50 in August. Ever since I picked up Christmas Eve And Other Stories (1996) and became a big fan of this ensemble, I have wished to get the chance to catch them in concert, something I never thought I’d get to do since they only tour for two months in the US and I happen to live in Sweden. Well, for my birthday, my beautiful wife Hanna gave me a present – a trip to San Francisco for a week and with the help of one of TSO’s singers, Mats Levén, we got tickets for their gig in Oakland – a smaller place that only holds around 6000 people. TSO usually plays for somewhere between 10000 – 15000 seats. So off we went to SF where we hooked up with Levén’s wife Lotta and their two kids and another friend, Sofie and together we had a nice little vacation, doing tourist stuff. I had a blast – thank you guys for being awesome!

With two versions of TSO touring parallelly on each side of the States, it’s damn impressive that they manage to more or less sell out every place they visit – every year. This version is made up of MD and guitarist Al Pitrelli (Alice Cooper, Widowmaker, Asia, Megadeth, Savatage), guitarist Angus Clark, bassist Johnny Lee Middleton (Savatage), drummer Blas Elias (Slaughter), keyboardists Vitalij Kuprij and Jane Mangini, violinist Asha Mevlana, female singers Chloe Lowery, Jodi Katz, April Berry, Ashley Hollister and Rosa Laricchiuta and male vocalists Jeff Scott Soto, Mats Levén, Dino Jeliusic (Animal Drive), Andrew M Ross, John Brink and Phillip Brandon, most of them musicians I had never heard of before, something that didn’t tone down my anticipation one bit – quite the contrary. Yes, I was really, really psyched to be here this evening.

Going through song by song reviewing a gig like this is impossible as this is a show where the big picture is the thing, so I won’t do that. Having seen pictures of their show and also clips on YouTube, I knew that the show would be bad-ass but exactly how bad-ass was something I had to wait and see. But when the show opened with “Night Enchanted” and “Winter Palace” and snow began to fall, I knew that we were in for something special, something that no pictures or clips could prepare me for. And when I say snow, I mean snow – no confetti, but real snow flakes, at least that’s what it felt like. How cool. “The Lost Christmas Eve” brought us into the Christmas theme of the show, called “The Ghosts Of Christmas Eve” and a darker and somewhat alternative Christmas spirit was brought on us. To get to hear Savatage’s “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)” of which a reprise ended the show, was truly amazing.

What was also amazing was that all the talk of Soto’s crumbling voice in later years is totally untrue – the guy was as impressive as he’s ever been and never missed a note, a true professional with his vocal cords still in order. Another impressive vocalist is Chloe Lowery with a vocal range as big as the Atlantic – goosebumps! The whole Christmas part was so brilliant and when that set ended, it felt like it was too soon. If it was up to me, they could have played the whole Christmas Eve And Other Stories back to back. And yes, I did miss “An Angel Came Down” this night as it’s one of my all time TSO songs. Hats off also to narrator Brandon who did a great job – a deep voice that made every word sound convincing. Before set two, MD Pitrelli introduced all the musicians involved including the small orchestra that was seated in back.

The second set is more of TSO greatest hits, a compilation of their non Christmas records which was cool. Lots of instrumentals were played but the show was just as entertaining. Levén’s song and dance, swing-rocker “Christmas Night In Blue” was also a highlight in the show, very entertaining indeed – he’s another impressing singer whose vocal abilities shows no signs of age at all. The all acoustic ballad “Someday” featured Rosa Laricchiuta whose more raspy Bonnie Tyler meets Robin Beck voice sent shivers down my whole body. Wow! Savatage’s “Chance” from their so underrated Handful Of Rain (1994) was an unexpected but very welcome part of the show – and TSO brought it home with lead singer Ross totally nailing Zak Stevens’ lead vocal parts. Brilliant! The ending with “Find Our Way Home” with Soto again showing us all how magnificent he is and “Requiem (The Fifth)” bringing us in to the reprise of “Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)” as the grand finale.

After the show I was totally pumped. The show went on for two and half hours but I could have stayed all night. I’m not sure how objective I am here as it felt like I had decided beforehand that this would be an amazing gig and that TSO could have farted their way through show and I would still have loved it, but on the other hand, with the extremely high expectations I had, it could have gone the opposite way as well. But apart from not playing my fave TSO track, I was miles away from being the least disappointed by anything. This was awesome. Everything. The musicians (it was great to see Blas Elias behind the kit again) and singers were all magnificent and the show was just unbelievable. The fact is, TSO plays in a league of their own – they make a Kiss show look like a gig at your local pizzeria – and it’s impossible to describe how phenomenal and grand the whole show is – you have to see it for yourself to really grasp it. Was this the best gig I have ever been to? I can’t think of any gig coming close to this. I need to plan my trip to America in 2019 right bloody now!

 

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