Trans-Siberian Orchestra honor founder Paul O’Neill in Tampa: ‘You live in all our hearts’

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra performed at Tampa's Amalie Arena on Dec. 17, 2017. Photo: Jay Cridlin
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra performed at Tampa's Amalie Arena on Dec. 17, 2017. Photo: Jay Cridlin
Published December 17 2017

The grandiosity and bombast of a typical Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert was tinged with emotion during the band's two concerts Sunday in Tampa, the adopted home of late founder Paul O'Neill.

With plenty of friends and family looking on at Amalie Arena, the group delivered a tight, focused performance of O'Neill's 1999 opus The Ghosts of Christmas Eve, including the hugely popular Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24. But it wasn't until later in the evening that they addressed their fallen founder.

"He's the reason we're all in this beautiful building this afternoon," said lead guitarist and musical director Al Pitrelli. "He is our founder, our leader, writer, composer, our producer — he is the man and the mind behind everything you're seeing and hearing this afternoon. And at the end of all that, he's our brother."

In 1996, O'Neill founded the Trans-Siberian Orchestra around the Tarpon Springs metal band Savatage, whose members still perform with TSO today – including, at Sunday's performance, Pitrelli and bassist Johnny Lee Middleton of St. Petersburg.

In April, O'Neill was found dead from a prescription pill overdose in a hotel room not far from TSO's studio headquarters near the University of South Florida. The band has moved on and continued touring without their mastermind at the helm.

RELATED: Inside Trans-Siberian Orchestra's first Christmas without leader Paul O'Neill

But it was clear on Sunday that his impact on the band still looms large. The band dedicated the delicate ballad The Safest Way Into Tomorrow to O'Neill, projecting on a backdrop an image of his signature black sunglasses, leather gloves and silver dollar coins.

"He used to say, individually, we're finite," Pitrelli said. "But collectively, we're infinite. So infinitely, eternally, forever and a day, Paul O'Neill, you live in all our hearts."

For the rest of the night, it was a typical Trans-Siberian Orchestra show, which is to say: Completely lavish and over-the-top, with shape-shifting stages and catwalks that descended from the ceiling, and lasers and pyrotechnics aplenty.

Before the matinee show, the group presented a check for $13,008 – a dollar from every ticket sold – to Pasco County's PACE Center for Girls. A second charity check would come during the evening show.

And if you're wondering about the state of TSO's popularity after O'Neill's death? At nearly 15,000 tickets, Sunday's matinee far outsold both Katy Perry on Friday and the 93.3-FLZ Jingle Ball on Saturday. And they still had a second show to come.

— Jay Cridlin

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