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TSO without tuxes and pyro 

Fans of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra touring Christmas music show have a non-seasonal chance next week to see their favorite musicians in their alter-ego project, O’2L. Rather than the classical overtones of TSO, the band takes a bebop-fusion approach to music that highlights Jane Mangini Pitrelli.

She’s Al Pitrelli’s wife. Al’s big-rock, big-guitar Megadeth-style of playing for Trans-Siberian Orchestra takes a backseat when the band reforms as O’2L.

“It’s not about me shredding and burning solos all night,” Al said by telephone last week. “I just become my wife’s utility man, which I can think of worse things to be. And I drive the truck. A 20-foot box truck was our Christmas present to each other this year.”

O’2L is coming Thursday, March 22, to Sticky Fingerz. When we talked the other day, I was the first to break the news to Al that O’2L would now be going up against the Who that same night. The Who is performing at Alltel Arena along with Rose Hill Drive in a show starting at 7:30 p.m.

No worries. O’2L will be happy to accommodate Sticky’s club owner Chris King and the local TSO fans who were wanting to come out but still might want to see the Who: They’ll start their show later than usual and play late as well. So, expect O’2L to crank up around 10-ish, perhaps. Those riding the bus shuttle from Little Rock over to Alltel Arena can get back off and walk the three blocks to Sticky Fingerz for what promises to be a great show.

It’s especially good for me, because I’ve been looking forward to it since TSO’s appearance in December. When Al told me before that show that O’2L had never played Little Rock — but TSO was drawing sellout crowds two years in a row at Alltel Arena — I suggested a couple of clubs in the area. Al got in touch with King at Sticky’s and the date was set the day TSO played Alltel.

Rather than me explaining O’2L’s complete sound, I recommend you check out www.o2lmusic.com.

But, if you’ve seen the second half of TSO’s shows here, you’ve already got a general idea about the talents involved in O’2L.

Tommy Farese and “Mad” Max Mann from TSO sing and play percussion. Kelly Keeling also sings. John O. Reilly is the drummer and Chris Olthoff is the bassist.

The star of O’2L is Janie Pitrelli, who wows fans with her versatile keyboard work. She grew up interested in the bluesy sound of the Allman Brothers and other Southern groups, and also had a natural grasp of gospel. Her style continued to evolve into jazz.

“I’ve said this since I first heard her, she’s an 85-year-old black man in a cute girl’s body,” Al says.

Her record label dubbed her one of the five most important keyboardists playing today. Behind Jane, her metal-head husband also shows off a versatility that fans don’t necessarily see in a TSO show.

“My wife’s music covers all bases, she doesn’t write with any one thing in mind,” Al said. “At any time, I’ll be playing banjo on a country [song] or Wes Montgomery style on guitar on our version of ‘Riders on the Storm.’

“... Jane shouldn’t be able to do what she does, she has these really tiny hands, but it’s in her soul. You can’t teach that. It’s been with her since birth.”

Most of the players in TSO and O’2L live in the northeastern corner of Pennsylvania, about 90 minutes from Manhattan. They can accomplish most of their practicing and recording chores at Al and Jane’s home studio, then take what they have to rehearsals with TSO creator Paul O’Neil in the summer. The O’2L tour traditionally starts on St. Patrick’s Day in Cleveland and journeys through the South and into Texas for a couple of months.

So, without the fake snow, the explosions and the laser lights, will TSO fans even recognize their heroes?

“It’s us just without the tuxedos and the pyro,” Pitrelli said. “Instead of the autograph signing like after a TSO concert, we’ll have a TSO fan who wants to sit down and have a martini after the show.”

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