- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Producer/composer/musician Paul O’Neill and 30 of his closest friends bring some indoor holiday fireworks to the MCI Center tonight in the form of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

When Mr. O’Neill formed TSO in 1996 the goal was to do four non-holiday rock operas, a Christmas trilogy, and then one regular album. “We’re basically halfway there,” Mr. O’Neill says from a Cleveland gig.

Why a trilogy? “Christmas is a subject that’s larger than life,” he says, noting that Charles Dickens wrote five books about Christmas.

The founder and producer of TSO also writes the story and lyrics for its shows. He is abetted by composer and co-producer Robert Kinkel and lead guitarist Al Pitrelli. Their band, a rotating mix of musicians from around the world, is drawn from rock, classical, and theater backgrounds.

Mr. O’Neill started his musical career as a guitarist in “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Hair” and has a long background as an arena-rock promoter, and he’s clearly put the experience to use in designing the show, which appears heavily influenced by The Who’s “Tommy” and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.”

“In seven weeks we’ll spend a million dollars on explosives alone. And every year we try to double the size of the production,” Mr. O’Neill says of the current tour.

“Kids like the show. Basically our motto when we tour is fog it, light it, or blow it up. Just keep it interesting…make it over-the-top, make it something that they won’t be able to see on TV.”

The trilogy’s final album/opera, “The Lost Christmas Eve” (Lava/Atlantic), opens with a power-chord rendition of “Faith Noel” that’s so over-the-top you may fear you’re in for a Spinal Tap Christmas. Of course, overwroughtness is a given when you have a rock opera mixed with Broadway-style songs.

Counterbalancing this somewhat is “Wizards in Winter,” a clever instrumental that belongs on the soundtrack of a “Harry Potter” film directed by Tim Burton, and the Jelly Roll Morton homage “Christmas Nights in Blue.”

And despite the frequent poetic overkill, lyrics like “hope rebegins / That the dream / He has offered might one day be taken” show the message of holiday redemption isn’t completely lost in the fog machines.

The plot of “Lost” is about a father finding redemption by finding his long-lost son on Christmas Eve.

“There’s something about that day that will make people try to undo mistakes they never thought they could undo,” Mr. O’Neill explains.

The first half of the live show will be one Christmas rock opera in its entirety, complete with onstage narration between songs. The second half is songs from “Lost Christmas Eve” and “Beethoven’s Last Night,” which Mr. O’Neill calls “our first non-holiday rock opera.”

Despite the title, he says the Beethoven work has a happy ending. “I’ve seen too many Frank Capra movies to have a sad ending. If you want sad endings watch the evening news.”

• • •

“It’s all about the quest to write the perfect three-and-a-half-minute song,” says Getaway Car singer Todd Wright of his musical philosophy. The local power-pop trio plays tomorrow at Jammin’ Java in Vienna.

Although they’ve had some local and regional success, Getaway Car doesn’t play many local shows. It’s had to pay the bills by hiring themselves out as touring musicians with groups like Pat McGee Band and Tonic, though Mr. Wright says he’s stopped doing that to focus on Getaway Car.

On the plus side, all that touring enabled them to land Brian Delaney of the New York Dolls to play drums on their last album, “All Your Little Pieces.” The group doesn’t have a permanent drummer, though Mr. Delaney plays gigs when he’s available.

“Pieces” is excellent, heavily-layered power pop in the tradition of Jellyfish and Teenage Fanclub, at least if you can slough off cheesy lyrics like “I need shelter from the storm” and “My love is waiting / My heart is waiting.” The harmony vocals on “When You’re Gone” echo those you’d hear on a Fountains of Wayne song, and it’s the harmonies that carry most of these songs.

“Insomnia” is the catchiest track here, and features a swirling chorus and some Cheap Trick-style vocals by bassist Chris Reardon.

“He’s this lead singer who’s dying to get out,” says Mr. Wright of his bassist.

“We’re a little edgier live than we are on record,” Mr. Wright says. “Besides, if you want to sound like the record live, you should just play the record.”

They also play a few pop covers live, though typically “covers that nobody knows.”

“Jammin’ Java has a storyteller’s kind of vibe. We play scaled-down, sometimes we sit down and we play,” Mr. Wright says. In addition to playing a few Christmas songs, “I have a slew of dysfunctional Christmas stories” to tell that are “almost traditional at the Jammin’ Java [holiday] shows” — like the time “my mother tackled my father in the kitchen and the turkey went flying.”

But he expects to keep the holiday horror stories to a minimum this time around: His family will be at the show this year.

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