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Hammersmith Apollo, 28 March 2011

At long last the UK gets to see the live debut of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a band who are massive in the US, so much so that they have two touring versions of the band at the same time for the east and west coast of the US.

The TSO is the brainchild of Paul O'Neill and Jon Oliva, both of whom worked together in Savatage. They are joined by fellow Savatage members' guitarists Al Pitrelli (who is also the live musical director) and Chris Caffrey, drummer Jeff Plate and bass player Johnny Lee Middleton. Sadly though, Jon Oliva wasn't able to make the London show.

The crowd was a mix of metal fans (good to see a healthy scattering of Savatage T-shirts around), many who seem to have come out of curiosity and bizarrely a few dressed in their theatre/opera garb. Hopefully they were not expecting a full classical concert!

The setlist was in the main the whole of 2000's 'Beethoven's Last Night', possibly chosen for the European audience, in particular Germany where the TSO played the majority of their European dates.

Having never heard this album until tonight (I came into the TSO via their three excellent Christmas themed albums), I was struck by the sheer quality of the songs and the musicianship.

Given that at the heart of the TSO lies a prog rock beast it was heartening that there were no overlong solos or drum solo. TSO deftly mix rock and classical music, something others have tried in the past but not as successfully as the TSO.

Between the music the narrator Bryan Hicks (he only lost marks for me when he tried to imitate a female voice) kept the story going. The plot revolves around Beethoven on his last night on earth having to do a deal with the devil (Mephistopheles), whose songs are ably handled by none other than Jeff Scott Soto (Journey/Talisman/Malmsteen), the only 'name' vocalist in a very impressive set of singers. The whole of 'Beethoven's Last Night' was like watching a West End musical, albeit with a metal backing.

The musicianship was exemplary from the guitars of Chris Caffrey and Al Pitrelli through to the keyboards of Vitalij Kuprij and Mee Eun Kim, with a special mention to the mad violinist Roddy Chong. He played a whirling dervish at times and really threw himself whole heartedly into the music.

But a TSO show isn't just about the music it is the whole spectacle from the lights to the lasers and the flames (which put Kiss to shame). The light show is simply stunning but never too much to take anything away from the music.

Savatage fans had a treat as well with snippets of that band's music appearing throughout the set, for example 'Mozart And Memories' contained part of 'Mozart And Madness' from the band.

After the 'Beethoven's Last Night' set we had some real treats with 'The Mountain' (again featuring part of a Savatage song) and a wonderful version of 'Sleep', featuring Kayla Reeves on vocals, definitely a name to watch as she has the voice and the stage presence of a born rock star.

The final song of the night was 'Chance', another Savatage song and specially requested by the absent Jon Oliva to close the show. Andrew Ross sang this one and put in a sterling performance.

One of the best live shows I have seen, both in terms of the music and the stage show. They are a definite 'must see', not just for rock fans but anyone after a memorable live musical show.

The TSO promised to be back and I am sure once the word spreads about how good the whole show is they will be playing a bigger venue and for more than one night.

Hopefully they can bring their Christmas show over as I am sure that would go down very well indeed with the European audiences.

Review by Jason Ritchie

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