Throwback Thursday #tbt
Review by Ann James Joles
Photos by Chris Joles (this show was shot with a point and shoot from the second row, we were not credentialed to photograph this show professionally.)
Originally Published May 9th, 2012.
Where you there? Comment below on your favorite memory of this show!
It was a dark and stormy night, literally as well as theatrically, May 9th as the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) opened the 2012 concert season for Waterfront Concerts (WFC) in Bangor, Maine, with their rock opera, “Beethoven’s Last Night.” Bundled in rain-gear and L.L. Bean boots, the crowd of both new and faithful fans was eager to brave the damp and incoming rain to see this ensemble light up the night in one of their rare outdoor performances. This was a pared down version of this extravaganza to suit a smaller stage capacity, but still TSO went over the top and the fans were happy and satisfied.
The TSO website, www.trans-siberian.com, provides extensive multimedia information about their founding and vision as well as the current cast and the story of “Beethoven’s Last Night,” a rock opera released in 2000 and toured extensively. But the thrill isn’t in the details, it is in the live show! It is pointless to try to nail down TSO in a few words. Forcing this rock experience into a neat little genre box just isn’t easy. Start by mixing Broadway and classical training with metal guitars, now add erupting pyrotechnics and synchronized hair gymnastics, gather a cast of players who have tremendous depth of talent, and you will begin to experience TSO. The vision of musician and producer Paul O’Neill, TSO’s mission to bring emotional impact through scene and music works no matter how many descriptives you throw at it. This isn’t a garden variety rock concert, folks, this is an audio visual spectacle of great eye candy proportions.
And therein lies the rub and my only awkward moment to discuss with this performance. “Beethoven’s Last Night” is musical theater, not a typical rock concert with the artists working the crowd. In this case the musical theater was performed for 2000 plus frozen and drenched, albeit happy, attendees afraid to move much and let the cold wind send a draft up their spines. I hope TSO wasn’t disappointed in our appreciation. It is hard to clap in mittens. The grapevine that evening said the band wasn’t happy with the weather, but shows on the Waterfront go on – Rain or Shine. Mother Nature can mess with the weather, but the WFC venue does everything possible to make concert goers happy and comfortable and give ticket holders impeccable sound quality.
Back to the show, the storyline is a spin from Faust on the struggle between Satan, Beethoven’s soul, and Beethoven’s regrets. The stage show leaps out at the audience with screaming guitars, lightning, classic riffs from the masters, and a massive projected ticking clock. All this is woven together through the captivating narration performed by Bryan Hicks. His performance made me sit up a little straighter as his voice boomed through the tried and true plot adding interest, variety, and even humor. I mention him first because he is flawless, and often flawless is taken for granted. Not this time. TSO declares their shows are not about individuals but about the cast as a whole. Good thing, the cast is extensive. We’ll start with the musicians. Guitarists Al Pitrelli, a founding member of TSO and lead guitarist, along with guitarist Chris Caffery and bassist Johnny Lee Middleton, both also on the original recording of “Beethoven’s Last Night,” anchored the musical performance to progressive rock. I will say it, they are masters with all that is good about the eighties style of excessive and intricate guitar licks. Jeff Plate on drums, the lucky man closest to the pyro’s heat blast, and Mee Eun Kim on keyboard kept everything full and satisfying. Vitalij Kuprij, also on keyboard, a Ukrainian protégé, offered not only dramatic flair but classical brilliance. I was glad to be sitting on his side of the stage for an up close view of his performance. Roddy Chong, violinist, lifted the aerobic workout level of the show. When TSO rolls into town with its many buses and trailer trucks full of stage, they work with local musicians and bring them on stage as part of the performance. This show was no exception and a small group of local talent was included in the production.
While I went for the music, I was charmed by the vocalists. Chloe Lowery, as Theresa, Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved, was a crowd pleaser with “The Dreams of Candlelight” and “I’ll Keep Your Secrets.” Rob Evans, as Beethoven, has a voice that is much easier to fall into than the original recording by Jody Ashworth. Ronny Monroe, Satan/Mephistopheles, was evil in black boots and must have riddled at least one child’s sleep with nightmares. Georgia Napolitano, as Fate and the Muses, ranged from potent rock operatic vocals to closing the story with the lullaby, “A Final Dream.” Chris Pinnella and Andrew Rose delivered energetic rock and roll good looks with stunning vocals. Even the little troupe of backup singers in tiny black dresses were entertaining. And suddenly, “Beethoven’s Last Night” was over, the spotlights came in wide from the tower, and the rock concert began. The lasting drizzle of the evening came to a close and a light rain started, but the crowd left their seats only to cheer on the performers. Still synchronized but now playing to the crowd, Pitrelli, Caffery, Middleton, and Chong rocked out the instrumental “Moonlight and Madness” from the “Night Castle” album. Kayla Reeves appeared and delivered “Someday” and “Child Unseen.” Delivered is exactly what she did as we sat awed at her vocal quality and force. “Tracers,” another instrumental from “Night Castle,” was followed by Andrew Ross’s Savatage cover of “Chance,” dripping with the glamour of the eighties. Finally, “Carmina Burana.” As finales go, this one hit the spot as it started to rain a bit harder, then harder still, and it was time to make for home. I did not expect such a finely sharpened edge of talent to this show. The depth in the performers in both experience and ability is refreshing. They all have other projects, come from other troupes and bands, and join up to cover the country in lights, lasers, and sonic spectacle. No wonder people line up to buy tickets, drive hours to see shows, and chat endlessly with others in the crowd about their favorite performers and parts of the shows. I’ll be back at another TSO show when one comes close to home, hopefully a full scale spectacle of lights and loud, symphonic rock