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By Brian Loux

TSO’s Christmas Eve and Other Stories

Orpheum Theater

December 14 and 15, 2001

All great rock shows are held outdoors or in stadiums, right? This is for good reason: when so inspired, the crowd may want to jump to its feet and dance, clap, crowd-surf, or perform some condoning act that requires large amounts of open space that only those venues can provide.

And let’s be honest, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is foremost a rock show. When you have an overpowering light display, dry ice, former members of the rock group Savatage, three guitarists and a drummer who focused on dazzling the crowd with acrobatics rather than their respective instruments, and singers asking “Do ya hear me Boston?” what else can it be? What makes the TSO unique is the inclusion of holiday music, classical composers, R&B, gospel, and storytelling into the rock show.

Why on earth was the concert in the cramped confines of the Orpheum Theater, the kind of place where you only leave your seat if you need to head to the bathroom? As narrator Tim Cairns sat directly onstage, rocking out with the amazing guitarists, the entire audience seemed eager to follow suit. But the atmosphere seemed to inculcate that everyone should just sit down and clap politely.

Everyone in the car. We’re going to the Fleet Center and we’re going to do it right this time.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra started in 1996 with their CD “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” which was the first half of the performance. The story, about an angel’s journey to find the one thing that signifies Christmas, was greatly enhanced with the powerful monologues from narrator Cairns, as well as the lighting of the stage and the surreal effect of seeing the story unfold live.

One of the first things to strike me was the crowd. Those that had dressed up were almost a minority, giving way to those in Red Sox caps and Savatage t-shirts. I cursed my miscalculation on the belt and loafers and longed for my Santana shirt and jean shorts. It was evident of the group’s ability to attract not only traditional patrons of classical music and theatre, but also young and middle class who enjoy the group’s upbeat style.

The orchestra consisted of three guitarists taking center stage in front of drummer Jeffrey Plate, two keyboardists to the right and a modest string section composed of local talent led by orchestra member Mark Wood. The presence of each section seemed to correspond with their position, as it was usually the guitars and keyboards that directed the flow of the show and captured the colossal emotion of the music in ways their instrumental counterparts could not. For vocal numbers, the entire band would quietly shuffle off stage, adding to the solemn power of the voices of singers Daryl Pediford, Joe Cerisano, and Jayelia.

The only downside was a string of errors that befell the early part of the show. It would have been just fine had the electric guitars not been able to hit the high notes or a tossed drumstick to go astray, but these occurred at the most important moments of the performance, during their signature pieces such as “Christmas Eve / Sarajevo,” “A Mad Russian’s Christmas,” and “Oh Holy Night.” While the rest of the show went flawlessly, there was still the nagging feeling that the show was not as great as it could have been.

The second half drew from the group’s other CDs and didn’t follow a set format. Gone was storyteller Cairns and replacing him was guitarist and all-around leader Christopher Caffery, who kept the mood light and cheerful. The orchestra seemed much more at home in this atmosphere. No longer driven by the pressure to make the performance a masterpiece like the first half, most of the musicians were have a lot more fun with the pieces, and the music greatly benefited.

With Boston’s continuing affinity for classic rock, it is no surprise that the TSO is a perennial favorite in the city. Like Santa, the group promised they would return the same time next year possibly with some new surprises. Fans can only lament that Christmas comes but once a year.