“We consider the crew band members,” he said. “Everyone eats together. Everyone’s family.” 

  • Jason Douglas McEachern

Paul O’Neill was never one to write a simple pop song. The music producer and composer has a knack for telling tales, a talent he learned from his history professor father, who also had a gift for storytelling.

For almost 20 years, O’Neill, 59, has intertwined his two loves — storytelling and progressive rock — to create the massively popular Christmas-themed, progressive-symphonic rock outfit Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO).

Its latest production, The Ghosts of Christmas Eve, is 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 23 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

O’Neill’s presence in the music industry predates TSO by almost two decades.

Performing with multiple acts since the 1970s, he might be best known for his rock music management work, which helped launch the careers of Aerosmith, AC/DC and Joan Jett. He also was a producer and composer for progressive metal band Savatage.

The seeds of TSO were planted when he felt his prior act had run its course.

“With Savatage in 1993, I felt we had taken as far as it could go,” he said. “I wanted to go in a new direction.”

Operatic amalgam

O’Neill took a cue from one of his influences, English rock act The Who, and its Tommy rock opera.

“That was the first true rock opera,” he said. “I also am a fan of many genres of music, and I wanted an avenue to bring those together in one piece.”

The original plan behind TSO was to create, record and perform six rock operas, a Christmas trilogy and a possibility of other albums. O’Neill said when TSO was pitched to Atlantic Records, he was surprised by the music label’s reaction.

“We were lucky,” he said. “They gave us a blank check. You would never see that in the music industry today.”

O’Neill was joined by Savatage alumni Jon Oliva, Al Pitrelli and Robert Kinkel to begin work on TSO.

TSO’s debut album was to be a project named Romanov. However, it was postponed and the act moved forward with Christmas Eve and Other Stories, the first chapter of his seasonal trilogy, released in 1996. As of Dec. 1, 2014, the album had sold 3.43 million copies, according to Billboard.com.

The Christmas Attic followed in 1998, and The Lost Christmas Eve was released in 2004 to complete the trilogy. Each sold more than a million copies. TSO’s latest album, Letters from the Labyrinth, was released in November.

Live, loud

What TSO is best known for is its live performances. A bombastic, arena-filling Christmas tale bobs and weaves its way through countless video screens, pyrotechnics and light shows rivaling anything found in Las Vegas.

“They are Pink-Floyd-on-steroids shows,” O’Neill said.

He doesn’t create these massive productions on his own. The word “legion” aptly describes TSO’s entourage. Eighty to 90 musicians are either touring or on standby. More than 300 crew members assemble stages, video screens, lights and more.

O’Neill tends to the needs of musicians. Lead vocalists sing up to five songs per night to minimize voice damage. “Do no harm to the lead singers,” said O’Neill as he explained his performance philosophy.

If a musician is ill, alternates from across the country are prepared to fly in and play.

Regardless of a production member’s role, each stands on equal footing.

“We consider the crew band members,” he said. “Everyone eats together. Everyone’s family.”

Though TSO’s size and experience is vast, what might be most impressive is in almost 20 years of touring, the band has never canceled a show.

TSO’s current tour, The Ghosts of Christmas Eve, features favorites from past performances mixed in with original ideas for this tour.

“We always give the audience the familiar and something new,” O’Neill said. “We are blurring the past, present and future.”

"Print Headline"; Raucous opéra, Trans-Siberian Orchestra brings its energetic and popular prog-metal spectacular to Oklahoma City.

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