Music News & Reviews

Over the top every time

Paul O'Neill talks big when it comes to the group he founded, symphonic rockers Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

"When we started this group (in 1996), I just wanted to be able to do anything I wanted to do and really push the envelope for rock concerts," O'Neill says. "Now we have the biggest rock show that ever toured. Period."

Whoa. What?

O'Neill stands behind his words.

"Go see the Stones," he says. "Go see U2. Then see our tour, and you'll see the difference."

Stages at the front and back of the house, 136,000 pounds of lighting equipment for the main stage, $2 million a month spent on pyro, 70-something members in the group (with 18 lead singers) — it is a big show.

For the uninitiated, the bigness of this Trans-Siberian Orchestra juggernaut revolves around an outfit that mixes rock, metal and symphonic sounds. It's sort of a Phantom of the Opera meets The Who meets Jesus Christ Superstar — with Black Sabbath and a dash of Mozart.

Members of other famous acts have been known to play with Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

"It's the only band where you will find someone from Alice Cooper next to someone from Asia, or someone from Blue Öyster Cult next to someone from Kool and the Gang," O'Neill says.The current lineup features Jeff Soto, a former Journey lead singer.

O'Neill got the idea for multiple lead singers from the vintage Temptations-Four Tops combined shows.

Trans-Siberian is known for its holiday concerts and CDs. Its next release is Night Castle.

(None of this is to be confused with Mann heim Steamroller, another largely holiday-themed band , led by Chip Davis.)

"When you're writing for Christmas, you're competing with the last 2,000 years," O'Neill says. "It's too large a subject for just one record."

In this gloomy economic climate, O'Neill plans to reward loyal fans with a show that's bigger than ever but ticket prices that aren't.

"Humans need moments of happiness that are totally stress-free," he says. "There's so much coming at them in the three hours (of the show) that the brain can't do anything but absorb. They won't be worried about their job and the house and the 401(k)."

So what if the band doesn't necessarily top critics' best-of lists?

"The most important critics are the people," O'Neill says. "Critics can love you, but if there's no one in the seats, it doesn't matter."

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