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Lisa Gauthier

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Thursday, Nov. 17, 7:30 p.m.

Conseco Fieldhouse

Tickets: $34.50-$42.50; 239-5151

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra will perform at Conseco Fieldhouse.

Think Mannheim Steamroller meets Dream Theater and you can begin to understand the sound of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

As one of the top live concerts in the United States, the group's 2004 holiday tour was No. 7 in overall top grossing concerts and No. 2 in attendance, according to Billboard. For good reason. A TSO concert is a multi-sense experience, using sound, light and snow (yes, snow) to create a one-of-a-kind Christmas rock concert.

Robert Kinkel is one of the founders of TSO, along with Paul O'Neill and Jon Oliva. They met working on the Savatage album Hall of the Mountain King. Kinkel talked about the band and the tour from their first 2005 TSO tour stop in Erie, Pa.

"A fan described it best," Kinkel says, describing a TSO concert. "It's like seeing Phantom of the Opera, a Who concert and the lights of Pink Floyd all at the same time. And there's a story element there."

The band's Christmas trilogy of CDs, Christmas Eve and Other Stories, The Christmas Attic and The Lost Christmas Eve, are rock operas in that they each tell a story. Kinkel says, "Paul [O'Neill] had an idea for a story that would tell itself out in a trilogy, a complete cycle. That's where the emphasis [on Christmas music] came from. Beethoven's Last Night we did in the middle [of the three Christmas CDs] to get away from Christmas, and [the upcoming release] Night Castle is non-Christmas."

The concert is split between Christmas and non-Christmas music. "We do Christmas Eve and Other Stories in its entirety, narrated," Kinkel says, "and the second half is a straight out rock and roll show, with songs from the other three CDs. We even preview a song from the album we are working on."

With the band's continued rise in popularity, and the fact that they only tour during the Christmas season, the decision was made to create two touring groups. "We started in 2000 with two tours," Kinkel explains. "There are just so many places that wanted to see us, there was no way to cover the country with just one band. Luckily, we have so many members and players on the albums, it's pretty easy to put together equally powerful shows. I take a band out to the East Coast, and guitarist Al Pitrelli takes out the band for the West Coast.

"We kind of split it down the middle, with people from each area, singers from records, and as we find more people to fill out the band on each side, they come in and record with us. This year we have some of the best musicians I've ever worked with."

That is no small compliment, because at the TSO concert, there are 23 musicians on stage.

Upcoming, the band is considering year-round touring, following the release of its next album. "It's in the plans. We'd like to tour when it's warmer!" Kinkel laughs.

As for the new album? "We are working on a storyline. Paul writes stories and lyrics. So yeah, it will have a story, and I'm sure it's going to be wonderful like all of Paul's stories."

One dollar from every ticket sold ($34.50-$42.50, Nov. 17 at Conseco Fieldhouse) goes to local charities. With a total projected attendance of over 650,000 people across the U.S., TSO will once again be giving over half a million dollars to charity - a gift that has become an annual tradition.

Check the band out at