On July 29, Gitarre & Bass magazine conducted an interview with several members of TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA (TSO) and SAVATAGE at this year’s edition of the Wacken Open Air (W:O:A) music festival in northern Germany. You can now watch the chat below. A couple of excerpts follow (transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).
On how SAVATAGE mastermind Jon Oliva prepared himself for the Wacken Open Air performance:
Oliva: “I stopped drinking. And I stopped eating. I stopped doing all the things I love to do. But it was worth it. ‘Cause I feel a lot better than I have in twenty years. And my voice… Actually, it’s my voice that’s freaking me out, because, even when I was in my late 20s, early 30s, doing songs like ’24 Hours Ago’ were always really hard to do. And, of course, I didn’t realize that it was all the drugs and alcohol I was doing. But, after doing that, getting my act together and stuff, singing ’24 Hours Ago’, it’s actually easy now. [Laughs]”
On how they put together the setlist for the Wacken Open Air performance:
Oliva: “[Laughs] This is my favorite question of all time. The three of us [Oliva, TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA creator and producer Paul O’Neill and TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA music director and lead guitarist Al Pitrelli] wrote more setlists for this show than I think I have in my entire career. I think we spent what, guys… three months putting the setlist together? Meticulously, picking out… ‘Okay, this is gonna work and this…’ Because utilizing so many musicians… And that’s why I think the SAVATAGE songs that we chose to do were — especially in the second half of the show — were songs that, as SAVATAGE, we couldn’t do. We couldn’t do them. We couldn’t do ‘Morphine Child’ with five guys. ‘Cause ‘Morphine Child’ was how many tracks? Like forty tracks of vocals alone. So it was tought putting the setlist together.”
On the future of SAVATAGE:
Oliva: “We don’t know. We don’t know what we’re gonna do, to be honest with you. You know, it’s hard to say, because I’ve learned something from these guys sitting next to me, that you’ve gotta leave doors open. Once you say something, that something will happen, [then] you’ve got your foot in your mouth. So what I’m gonna say about that is, I wish the best for everybody in SAVATAGE. If we end up doing something after this, we do; if we don’t, we don’t. I don’t know. I’m just not gonna say. ‘Cause if I say we’re gonna do something, that something will happen, and it won’t happen, then I’ll look like an asshole again. And if I say we’re not gonna do something, and Paul comes up with another brilliant idea and we do do something, I’m gonna look like a liar again. So I’m just gonna say, I don’t know. And that’s the god’s honest truth. I love SAVATAGE. I’ve spent… You know, since I was 18 years old, with those guys — well, most of ‘em. So I don’t know. I just wish that everything works out good [at the Wacken Open Air show] and then we’ll see what happens down the road. I’ll never say no to anything anymore, because every time I do, I get rained on.”
At Wacken Open Air, TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA and SAVATAGE wowed 80,000-plus attendees with a never-before-attempted music festival performance. Following a 40-minute SAVATAGE set and a 40-minute TSO set, TSO and SAVATAGE band members, across two of the festival’s main stages, performed a perfectly coordinated set of fan favorites. This ambitious feat, both musically and logistically, was helmed by Paul O’Neill. Al Pitrelli led TSO on the “True Metal Stage” and Jon Oliva headed SAVATAGE on the “Black Stage.” Beyond the unprecedented act of two bands hitting the stage at the same time, this show was also memorable as it marked progressive metal originators SAVATAGE’s first show in over a decade, TSO’s first European festival show, as well as the only live appearances of both bands in Europe in 2015.
The closeness of these two bands is well-known to those versed in rock/metal lore. TSO was founded in 1993 by producer/composer/lyricist Paul O’Neill, who brought together SAVATAGE’s Jon Oliva and Al Pitrelli to fulfill a vision for a group that could meld the sound of classical and fury of rock music with Broadway’s storytelling to create a unique amalgamation O’Neillcalls “rock theater.” Since gaining massive popularity after beginning touring in 1999, TSO has grown to include additional members of SAVATAGE within its ranks.
At 9:45 p.m., SAVATAGE, including members Oliva, Pitrelli, Johnny Lee Middleton, Chris Caffery, Jeff Plate, Zak Stevens, Bill Hudson, plus several backing musicians (including TSO’s Vitalij Kuprij), ripped through such SAVATAGE songs as “Gutter Ballet”, “Hall of the Mountain King”, “Edge of Thorns”, “Jesus Saves” and more.
As the SAVATAGE set came to a close, guitarist Pitrelli raced to the other stage to join TSO for a fierce performance including songs from their upcoming release “Letters From The Labyrinth” — “Prometheus”, “Toccata/Carpimus Noctem” from the platinum-certified “Night Castle” and more. For TSO’s first set, the band consisted of John O.Reilly and Jeff Plate (drums), David Z and Middleton (bass), Angus Clark and Caffery (guitars), Mee Eun Kim and Derek Wieland (keyboards), Asha Melvana and Roddy Chong (strings). Vocal duties were handled by Jeff Scott Soto, Kayla Reeves and Andrew Ross, with the group bolstered at times with dancers, background vocalists and more.
At 11 p.m. came the portion of the performance that left the crowd astonished: all band members took to their respective stages and began an hour-long simultaneous performance playing the same songs concurrently. They stormed through the set containing such songs as SAVATAGE’s “Turns To Me”, a rousing version of “Believe” with a duet featuring Oliva and Robin Borneman along with TSO favorites including “A Last Illusion”, “Requiem”, “Beethoven” and “King Rurick” from TSO’s forthcoming release. A united TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA featured four guitarists, four keyboard players, two drummers, two bassists, a string section, and multiple vocalists (including the addition of TSO’s Russell Allen and SAVATAGE’s Stevens to the above). It was a sight to behold, with several generations on stage: from teenagers taking their first steps on an international rock stage to seasoned veterans who have toured the world.
Throughout the two-plus hours, along with an unprecedented sonic storm, fans were treated to an incredible pyrotechnic display estimated to have cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. As anyone on site could attest, it was an unparalleled auditory and visual experience.