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Winter wonderland 

Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Alltel Arena
Dec. 21

It became obvious at our second Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert why so many people throughout the U.S. return year after year to see this wonderland of holiday music, laser and strobe lights, mist and sudsy “snow” falling. There are many layers within a TSO show thanks to the array of world-class rock and jazz musicians, several whom come together just for this three-month tour.

Judging from the response when queried by the band, about half the crowd of 14,134 people last Thursday was experiencing its first TSO show. We saw our first in 2005 and found ourselves awed by the second-act jam session of contemporary rock music and dueling keyboardists.

The show, particularly the first half’s “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” remains mostly the same year after year, and this time our attention was riveted on violin virtuoso Anna Phoebe, a Londoner who will join the Jethro Tull tour in March. Despite wearing a knee brace on her right leg, her energy never waned through two sets. During Phoebe’s “rest” periods, she led a group of eight local string performers, but mostly she scurried from one side of the stage to the other, then made a couple of surprise appearances at the back of the arena too, scorching her pink violin with her violent swipes of the strings that highlighted such songs as the reprise of “Christmas Eve Sarajevo 12/24.” One amazing visual moment came during the second act, when a frenetic Phoebe was out front and in line with guitarists Al Pitrelli and Angus Clark and bassist Joe Lee Middleton, all silhouetted by a dazzling red light behind them.

Another stunner in this night of new appreciation was Kristin Gorman, who held a high C on “Queen of the Winter Night” for at least seven seconds during the second act. Newcomer Erin Henry displayed a terrific voice during her first-set solo.

Mad Maxx, who rejoined TSO after a five-year break during which he won “Latin American Idol,” helped the band make the grayhairs like us happy with a powerful cover of “Layla.” The dueling keyboard work by Jane Mangini and newcomer Derek Weiland was fun again, juxtaposing classical (Weiland) against the bluesy gospel style of Mangini in the band’s encore.

Best yet for us in this nearly three-hour show, a first-half story we barely understood last year made perfect sense this time. The “Christmas Eve and other Stories” segment involves a tale of an angel helping a runaway get home, colored by songs that are inspired by carols. We were hiding watery eyes at the end of the first act with Gaynor’s wishing us all a Merry Christmas. Count us in again next year for TSO.

— Jim Harris

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