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TSO rocks house with yule-time jams

TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA, E Center, West Valley City, Saturday.

WEST VALLEY CITY — Two years ago, the audience for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra filled one quarter of the E Center. Last year, fans and families took up half the seats. This year, the audience expanded to nearly the full arena.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra has made a name for itself in Utah. And TSO rocked the house Saturday night with its Christmas concert — complete with two screaming guitars, a string septet, a load of pyrotechnics, six Broadway vocalists, two keyboardists, a bassist, a drummer and a story line that could bring a hardened cynic to tears.

The core band — guitarists Angus Clark and Al Pitrelli, keyboardists Carmine Giglio and Jane Mangini (Pitrelli's wife), drummer John O. Reilly and bassist John Lee Middleton — cranked out some rocking yuletide jams.

Violinist Anna Phoebe led the Salt Lake Strings, comprised of locally based musicians. There was also an array of vocalists — Jill Gioia, Bart Shatto, Michael Lanning, Jennifer Cella, Kristin Gorman, Guy LeMonnier and narrator Tony Gaynor — who took the audience through the complete concept album, "Christmas Eve and Other Stories."

Progressive-rock takes on "O Holy Night," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "The First Noel" added flair to the original, story-line songs "An Angel Came Down" and "The Prince of Peace."

When the band kicked into "A Mad Russian's Christmas," based on Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker," any thoughts the audience may have had about a cheesy "Hooked on Classics" medley were blown to smithereens. Pitrelli's and Clark's leads cut through the mix, and the vocalists brought their own flair and style to the production.

The second half of the night featured the band just rocking away with its classically based rock jams. Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana," Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee" spotlighted the vocalists and the guitarists.

The keyboardists took on each other with duel that included Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor and Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time Is Here" and "Linus and Lucy" before splashing into Franz Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody."

With a dazzling spectacle of lights, pyrotechnics, lasers and music, TSO brought an exciting flavor to the season.