Trans-Siberian Orchestra is throwing a bit of a curveball at its fans with this year’s edition of its popular holiday tour.
For the first time since the combination rock group/orchestra began doing its annual Christmas tours, it is not featuring one of the albums from its popular Christmas trilogy – the 1996 release “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” “The Christmas Attic” (1998) and “The Lost Christmas Eve” (2004).
Instead, TSO will perform its one Christmas work that never made it to CD – and never has been performed live on tour – “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve.”
“I’ve always liked it,” TSO founder Paul O’Neill said in a late-October teleconference interview with a group of reporters. “It’s a little gem. … We decided if we were ever going to do ‘The Ghosts of Christmas Eve’ live, it was this year or not at all, so we decided to go for it.”
Last year, “The Christmas Attic” became the last of the Christmas trilogy albums to be featured on the holiday tour. With the 20th anniversary of “Christmas Eve and Other Stories” looming for 2016, this fall became an ideal time to step away from the trilogy.
The “Ghosts Of Christmas Eve” project came about in 1999 quickly and quite unexpectedly after a one-hour mini-movie dropped out of the Fox lineup.
“They asked us if they could film the band for an hour doing “Beethoven’s Last Night,” which we had just completed,” O’Neill said. “I said, ‘If you give me an hour, I’ll give you a mini-movie.’ They’re like, ‘Do you have a script?’ and I’m like, ‘I’ll write it tonight.’ I just quickly scripted together this little thing, where a 15-year-old ends up breaking into this old vaudeville theater. She’s a runaway. There, she’s discovered by the caretaker, who uses the ghosts and the spirits from the theater to turn her life around. Thank God, Fox liked it.
“It was only supposed to run once and never again, but it did so well, Fox ran it multiple times,” he said. “Then it’s basically run on various stations ever since. The DVD has gone multiplatinum.”
TSO has become a major success, with “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” a triple-platinum hit, leading the way. Its annual Christmas tour, meanwhile, is a reliable blockbuster, earning $51 million last year.
O’Neill’s studio work, though, has shifted to long-planned non-holiday projects.
The group has released “Letters From the Labyrinth.” In fall 2014, O’Neill deemed this project 90 percent complete, but the project took a major turn this past summer after TSO played Germany’s Wacken Festival.
While there, O’Neill met a pair of Sunni Muslims and another pair of concert-goers who were Shiite Muslims. The two pairs of men had been involved in the Syrian civil war. O’Neill’s encounter with these young men prompted him to write “Forget the Blame,” which turned into a duet between vocalists Robin Borneman and Lzzy Hale (of the hard rock band Halestorm).
“I would like to believe, that if God forbid, in two years if these four young men, who are in two separate militias, met in combat in Syria in that horrible civil war, that if they recognize each other that not only would they not pull the trigger, I think they would actually un-chamber their weapons,” O’Neill said. “They would say, ‘Hey, weren’t we at a concert with you at Trans-Siberian Orchestra in 2015?’ It’s hard to hate someone, let alone shoot them, that you’ve gone to a concert with. That is the magic of music. It’s really amazing.”
From there, the entire concept of “Letters From the Labyrinth” changed. O’Neill found himself stepping away from building the album around a single rock opera format and instead treating each song as its own short story, ranging from the near-classical symphonic sound of “Time and Distance” to the hard-rocking, riff-based “Forget the Blame.”
O’Neill said that perhaps a half dozen songs from “Letters From the Labyrinth” will find their way into the set list this year. (The group has usually included some non-holiday material in the second set of the show.)
The show will again deliver what is arguably the biggest visual spectacle of any concert, featuring all manner of lights, lasers and pyrotechnics to go with the music.
“The bottom line is, it’s all about the audience, to take everybody in that arena on a journey of their imagination where they’re not in that arena,” he said. “They escaped, and they feel emotions they never felt before. They leave that building recharged. Our biggest fear right now is that we never drop the ball.”
What: “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve” live show
When: 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 2
Where: Sleep Train Arena, 1 Sports Parkway, Sacramento
Cost: $29.50-$73; parking $15
Information: 916-928-6900; www.sleeptrainarena.com