The Trans-Siberian Orchestra, as it travels today, is guided largely by two important influences: Pink Floyd and Disney.
Paul O’Neill, creator, lyricist and composer for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, wants his shows to be as spectacular as Pink Floyd’s yet as affordable as early Disney theme parks, he said.
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a staple at Intrust Bank Arena, returns to Wichita for a one-night-only performance on Friday, Dec. 2.
And the show, part of the band’s “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve” tour, promises to be bigger and more pyrotechnical than any the band has done in the past.
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“Every year we always say the same thing: ‘How the heck are we going to beat this?’ ” O’Neill said in a recent teleconference.
‘Not a bad seat in the house’
It wasn’t until O’Neill saw Pink Floyd live in the late 1990s that he realized he could design a show where there’s not a bad seat in the house.
He was sitting in the front row.
“I simply had never seen a show that good where every time you thought you saw the ultimate gag, they had 10 more lined up,” O’Neill said. “I went all the way back to the further seats in the back, and it was just as good. ... I basically learned you can design a show, as long as you don’t care about the budget, where there is no such thing as a bad seat in the house.”
O’Neill clearly doesn’t care about the budget. His only concern is to improve the show every year.
“They all know that if they invent great special effects that’s insanely expensive, there is one band that is dumb enough to buy it, and that’s us,” O’Neill said. “The look on the kids’ faces when they see an effect that has never been done before, it’s just worth it.
They all know that if they invent great special effects that’s insanely expensive, there is one band that is dumb enough to buy it, and that’s us.
Paul O’Neill, Trans-Siberian Orchestra creator, lyricist and composer
“I remember the first time we did it, the accountants going, ‘Paul, you can’t do this. You are killing seats. You are killing floor seats.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, but it looks really, really cool.’ The next day, when I showed up at rehearsal, the accountant bought T-shirts for all of the crew. In the front it just had a little TSO logo. On the back in big block letters it says, ‘JESUS SAVES, PAUL SPENDS.’ ”
His biggest challenge, he said, is keeping the show affordable and accessible to as many people as possible.
“What’s the point of having a show like this if ... only sovereign wealth funds or corporations or ... bankers from Wall Street could afford tickets?” O’Neill said. “There should be no financial strain to come see this band. ... We agonize to keep it affordable, and that’s also one of the reasons we do matinees.”
That comes from Walt Disney, O’Neill said, “someone that doesn’t get a lot of credit for TSO, but he deserves it.”
In the 1930s, Disney wanted to build an amusement park that everyone could afford to attend.
“With Trans-Siberian Orchestra, we have the means if we have the show, and we try to do it so if you want to go see the show, it’s not like ... you go see Trans-Siberian Orchestra or this other band,” he said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, we can see TSO and go see that other band.’ ”
Behind the scenes
The orchestra’s grueling winter 2016 tour schedule includes 105 shows in 61 cities from Nov. 17 to Dec. 31. That’s made possible by two separate touring crews – one covering the eastern United States and one covering the western United States.
For example, on the same night Trans-Siberian Orchestra will play in Wichita, it is also playing in Toledo, Ohio.
There are two touring Trans-Siberian Orchestra productions – one covering the eastern United States and one covering the western United States.
Not one of the 24 singers in the band ever has to sing more than four songs in one night, according to O’Neill.
“I do that because when I was in the business in the ’70s and the ’80s, I would see so many bands, so many great singers destroy their voices,” he said. “The human voice is not meant to scream ... for two hours a night. It’s not a matter of if you’re going to destroy these guys’ voices, it’s a matter of when.”
When the band tours, it takes new buses, “the best buses that are available,” O’Neill said.
“Everybody has their own bedroom,” he said. “We keep it all first-class, so basically they just have to be great for those two, three or four times they’re on the flight deck, and the rest is just about keeping them comfortable, keeping them healthy.”
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2
Where: Intrust Bank Arena, 500 E. Waterman
What: “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve,” a rock opera featuring many of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s classic hard-rock Christmas tunes