Life in the Slow Lane

December 31, 2009

TSO makes spirits bright on holiday tour

Filed under: Entertainment,Music — pauljlane @ 1:58 am

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra dazzled nearly 14,000 fans at Buffalo’s HSBC Arena the evening of Dec. 30, performing 90 minutes of the rock band’s famed Christmas tunes that decked the halls with roaring riffs, vivacious vocals and more eye candy than your average Manhattan model runway.

Just as the patrons were brought to their feet, ready to hit the aisles as band members were introduced, an off-hand comment about “the second half of the show” amazed most of the people in attendance.

Second half? You mean … there’s more?

Oh yes. TSO ended up playing a 2 1/2 hour set. Although the band only makes two more stops on its 2009-10 holiday tour, you’d serve yourself well to make it if at all possible.

This reviewer went to the show primarily to see for himself just how great a spectacle this famed group put on. While the visuals – including bubbles dropped from the ceiling to simulate snow, a flying platform on the opposite side of the arena from the stage, hundreds of lasers and plenty of fire – were as advertised, the music was better than expected.

Sure, you can detect hints of those played-out Christmas songs in many TSO tunes, but the band completely reinvents the music, making it relevant and powerful in a way never imaginable. And the musicianship was top-notch, with all performers on par with the very best at their respective positions.

While the first half dealt with a Christmas theme (and made at least one pair of eyes in the arena a bit misty) the second half offered a selection of songs from the band’s “Night Castle” CD. Sounding like Mozart mashed up with Metallica and Led Zeppelin, the songs were quite powerful and made classical music enjoyable on a level beyond serving as the background music for Elmer Fudd’s pursuit of Bugs Bunny.

If you can’t make this tour, fret not. TSO promises a spring tour to support “Night Castle,” the band’s first non-holiday gigs. If that tour – for which the show’s creators promise to one-up themselves fromt his holiday tour – comes near you, do yourself a favor and check it out.

If TSO can make a fan out of this person, they can do the same for you.

December 17, 2009

TSO, Machines of Grace keep Jeff Plate’s plate full

Filed under: Entertainment,Music — pauljlane @ 4:14 pm

Trans-Siberian Orchestra might keep Jeff Plate busy during the holidays, but the TSO drummer has kept busy during his down time with a passion project.

Jeff Plate, pictured with the drum kit he uses with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, has revived material he and his Machines of Grace bandmates wrote years ago.

The former member of Savatage — from which TSO was born — gets to unleash his hard rock side with Machines of Grace, a quartet made up of Plate, Zak Stevens, Matt Leff and Chris Rapoza.
Although revived in the past couple years, Plate said the seed for Machines of Grace was actually planted nearly two decades ago. The musicians started playing together in 1990 in Boston and playred regional shows for several months.
“Then grunge came along and kind of screwed that whole thing up,” said Plate, citing a distaste that formed for metal around that time.
Both Stevens (in 1992) and Plate (in 1994) joined Savatage, staying along for the ride in 1996 when TSO first came to be. While Plate has toured and recorded for TSO since then, and Stevens has done some work with the group, Machines of Graces decided a couple years ago to revive the material they’d worked on in the early 1990s.
“We decided that the old material was strong,” said Plate, who cited Iron Maiden, Queensryche and Dream Theater among the group’s influences. “At the time that we were doing it, I felt that we were doing something unique.”
And so the band went to work in the studio, eventually releasing a self-titled rock album this past summer with help from veteran technician Paul David Hager (Goo Goo Dolls, Pink). Describing the album as melodic metal minus the thrash and “Cookie Monster vocals,” Plate said it felt good to finish off what had been started so long ago.
“It was just kind of a weird time. We felt that we had never gotten our due,” he said of the failed attempt at a record in the 1990s. “When it didn’t happen, it was quite discouraging, but over the years I always revisted the demos. I think it was just unfinished business.”
Business remains unfinished now. After performing some U.S. shows in September, MOG will look to be on the road some time next year.
“My schedule is obviously busy, so we will have to work around that and do some shows that make sense for all of us,” he said. “Finding the right band to work with, and the right markets to work in, is important, so we’ll take our time and make sure we do the right thing. You WILL see us out next year.
“Being out live is really going to be our biggest advantage at this point. We’d like to take this CD as far as we can.”
Although metal’s image suffered in the 1990s, Plate feels that the hard rock genre — and, thus, Machines of Grace — will always have a place with fans.
“Musically, metal will always attract the musician because of the remarkable ability of the players,” he said. “Regardless of your taste, you can’t deny how accomplished these people are and just how difficult some of the music is. I am always amazed at the drumming. And, of course, the killer guitar riff is essential. MOG has recorded this CD with the intent of being who we are, and that incorporates these elements, along with great melodic vocals and harmonies and strong hooks. I believe we deliver something for not just the metal fan, but for all fans of rock music.”
Metal might not seem a good fit with TSO’s classically tinged rock opera melodies, but Plate enjoys the contrast his two gigs provide.
“With TSO and Savatage, it fits my style of drumming quite well,” he said. “TSO is something that (creator) Paul O’Neill … they have a certain drum take in mind. Solid drumming, not a lot of flash. Make sure the drumming doesn’t clutter the landscape … Machines gives me a chance to open up. In a four-piece band, there is more to room and space to fill. I can be more aggressive here, and it makes more sense from a drumming perspective.”
With a spring tour for TSO on the horizon, followed by more promotional work for Machines of Grace, 2010 looks to be busy for Plate.
“It’s a great problem to have,” he said.

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