The Trans-Siberian Orchestra took its annual holiday show online last year, hosting a livestream event for fans while most in-person concerts were still on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although the virtual version proved quite popular, Al Pitrelli and Jeff Plate are thrilled to be back out on the road with the band in 2021 and celebrating the Christmas season once more in front of live audiences.
And they most definitely sound willing to comply with — perhaps even exceed — any new safety precautions that might be in place at the various venues visited on this tour.
“I think I could speak for Jeff on this one saying we’ll show up in hazmat suits and play, dude,” says Pitrelli, the musical director and guitarist for Trans-Siberian Orchestra. “We’re just like caged animals chomping at the bit. To not do what we’ve doing for 20 something years, to have that taken away from us last year … once you have it back in your hands, you love it, cherish it, protect it that much more.
“So I just want to put a guitar around my shoulders and stand out in stage center and say, ‘Let’s go.’”
The two musicians — who joined this Christmas prog-rock juggernaut in time for its first tour in 1999 — are speaking during a media teleconference in support of the band’s winter tour, which is now underway.
The tour celebrates the 25th anniversary of the band’s 1996 debut album — the multimillion-selling “Christmas Eve and Other Stories.”
The rock opera features many of TSO’s most beloved numbers, including “Ornament,” “Promises to Keep,” “This Christmas Day,” “O’ Come All Ye Faithful,” “Good King Joy,” “Old City Bar” and, most famously, the hit “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24.” The heartwarming piece, from the visionary mind of late TSO founder/composer/lyricist Paul O’Neill, explores such issues as kindness and generosity as it tells the story of an angel who visits Earth on Christmas Eve.
Twenty-five years after it’s release, “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” remains TSO’s signature work as well as its bestselling album.
“I’ve said along, I think this story is really the star of the show,” Plate says. “This is what kept bringing people back every year … when people connected with the story and realized it’s about them. It’s about everybody. This is just how people, just word of mouth, kept coming back. These audiences kept building every year.”
Pitrelli agrees with his bandmate, saying that “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” was “what kind of put us on the map and made Trans-Siberian Orchestra a household name.”
Yet, he adds that it has been very intriguing to come back and explore the work again all these years later.
“Playing songs like ‘Ornament’ and ‘This Christmas Day’ and ‘Old City Bar,’ they meant something different to me in my 30s,” he says. “My three older children were babies back then.”
He remembers being onstage one night a few years back, right after the group reintroduced the “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” material to its set list, and being struck by the power of the song “Ornament.”
“I got really, really emotional because my boys have grown up, and a couple of them are in the Armed Forces. One’s in the Navy, and one’s a sniper in the Special Forces,” Pitrelli says. “I remember the character was pleading to the heavens of the safe return of his daughter who had run away on Christmas Eve. I caught myself just wondering, ‘Is my boy okay? Where is he today? I just want to put my arms around him.’
“As I get a little bit older these songs become a little more important to me, and I relate very deeply to the story. Then what I noticed was everybody in the audience was relating, too, because … everybody misses somebody.”
Passion for the TSO music, however, has never been something that Pitrelli has lacked. He says that “it takes no thought whatsoever” for him to keep the fire burning year after year onstage.
“When you love something, you love it. That’s it,” he says. “It’s like asking me if I ever get tired of kissing my children. It’s part of us. Jeff and I have been there from the jump. We watched this thing open its eyes from the very first time some time mid-’95 and have watched it grown up like I’ve watched my children grow up to exceed all my expectations.
“When you love something this much you never have to rekindle or do anything.”
And that’s one of the reasons why Pitrelli plans to stay in TSO as long as possible.
“Jeff and I, we’ve been doing the same thing since we were both puppies,” he says. “You put a pair of drumsticks in his hands or a guitar around my neck, we’re like kids all over again. I’ll never get tired of this. People say, ‘When are you going to retire?’ I’m like, ‘When I’m dead. Why would I ever not do what I do?’”
“I just love it so much,” he adds. “The fact that so many families in America have embraced us as part of their holiday tradition. I’ll never get tired of looking down at the smiles.”
Plate is very aware of the special place that TSO holds in fans’ hearts — especially during the holiday season.
“This is a very unique project we’re a part of. I can state for myself personally, every night I’m on stage I treat it like it could be my last, so I just go up there and do everything that I can. We’re going to make this thing work as long as we can.”
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