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Concert Reviews:
Trans-Silberian Orchestra brings Christmas Eve back at Little Caesars Arena

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Saturday, December 28, 2019

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DETROIT -- Four days after the fact, Christmas Eve was rekindled at Little Caesars Arena on Saturday, Dec. 28 -- arguably in even more ebullient fashion during two shows by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

The hook for the conceptual rock troupe's annual visit (Detroit has been a staple market since its first tour 20 years ago) was the return of its debut album, "Christmas Eve and Other Stories," in its entirety for the first time in eight years. The multi-platinum effort remains the most concise and impactful work in the TSO canon, with enduringly strong material -- "The Prince of Peace," "Good King Joy," "This Christmas Day" -- beyond the smash seasonal hit "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)."

It was greeted on Saturday like a long-lost relative dropping into a holiday gathering, with refreshed staging -- TSO's dependably unmatched arsenal of lasers, pyrotechnics, flashy videos, a smattering of soap-sud snowflakes -- to match the characteristically virtuosic, classically influenced musicianship of the 16-piece ensemble, which was bolstered by a seven-piece string section of local players. Some expanded arrangements and Bryan Hicks' narration swelled "Christmas Eve..." into an 80-minute opus that reveled in its unapologetic and affecting bombast.

The album's themes of longing for peace and joy in a troubled world are as resonant now as when it came out in 1996, and some of the show's best moments included Erika Jerry's performance of "The Prince of Peace" and the delivery of "Old City Bar" by Zachary Stevens of TSO predecessor Savatage, both with sparse accompaniment from piano and guitar, respectively. TSO's instrumentalists -- particularly violinist Roddy Chong and guitarists Joel Hoekstra and Chris Caffery -- went to town during "First Snow" and "A Mad Russian's Christmas," while "This Christmas Day" provided a joyous climax that had even more heft than the recorded version.

The second half of the two-hour and 20-minute show was more scattershot but equally entertaining, featuring more effects -- including a makeshift Nikolai Tesla magnifying transmitter at the back of the arena floor -- along with the instrumental favorite "Wizards in Winter," three songs from the non-Christmas rock opera "Beethoven's Last Night" and renditions of Savatage's "Handful of Rain" and "Believe." For longtime fans, meanwhile, an emotional highlight was "Can You Hear Me Now," an unreleased song discovered earlier this year on a 35-year-old demo tape by TSO's late founder Paul O'Neill and arranged for performance on the tour by singer Kayla Reeves and Hoekstra.

At one point during "Christmas Eve..." narrator Hicks advised that "if the truth is to be old, we're all pursuing magic." TSO has achieved that for many years now; This year's show was no exception, and it also served to stoke more expectations for next year's visit.

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