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Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Al Pitrelli hopes to surprise fans.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Christmas rock concert has gotten bigger every year, and guitarist Al Pitrelli says he's still flabbergasted about the band's growth in popularity and its annual stage-show expansion.

"Our first tour was 1999," Pitrelli said by phone from Lubbock, Texas. "And we didn't know what to expect. We were touring with four roadies and a few lights and a fog machine."

Now, there are two Trans-Siberian Orchestras touring the country. The stage is not only filled with strobes and grids of other stage lights and laser lights, but it also houses a core band, back-up singers and a chamber-size string section.

"It's nuts," said Pitrelli, who has been coming to Salt Lake ever since TSO made its Utah debut in 2003. "It keeps getting bigger. I guess it's better than the other way around."

For years the band has played the E Center, only filling a quarter of the arena the first year and then moving to half the next. Last year the band played two full-size sold-out shows in one day in the E Center. And this year it's the EnergySolutions Arena.

"It all starts with an idea," said Pitrelli. "The guy who thought of this whole thing, Paul O'Neil, is the quintessential 'kid in the candy shop.' He has all these ideas and he jots them down on his napkins or wherever he can find the space. And then those ideas are presented to the people who create what Paul has thought about."

This year, the band is touring with approximately 80 crew members — a far cry from the four roadies during the first tour. "By that time we had recorded two albums ('Christmas Eve & Other Stories' and 'The Christmas Attic'). Paul had the idea of taking the show on the road.

"I thought it would be impossible and told him, 'No way.' I mean who bought the albums? Well, my mom for one, and me. But I didn't think there would be an audience for it. And, sure, we did end up selling a bunch of CDs, but I was still skeptical."

But the tour was a success. Audiences of between 1,100 and 2,000 people attended each show. The next year, O'Neil wanted to make it a bigger show, so he split the band in two and told Pitrelli to take his band to the West while he kept his in the East. "I told him, 'No way. I didn't think it was going to be as successful. And here I am nearly a decade into this crazy thing and I still tell him, 'No way."'

Pitrelli, who grew up in New York and played with Asia, Megadeth and Alice Cooper, is still amazed at how popular the show has become. "Our demographic is everyone from 7 to 70, and even then we see some infants and very elderly people in the audience. That never happened when I was in Megadeth."

The concert format hasn't changed a lot musically, he said. "As in the past, we do two sets. The first set we play 'Christmas Eve & Other Stories' in its entirety. The second set we like to mix things up and add new songs and rock out. This year is no different. We will be doing some other things. Veteran TSO concertgoers will be surprised and those who have never seen us before will be, hopefully, blown away."

One feature of the second set will be some songs off the upcoming TSO album "Night Castle," which has been in production for a few years because the band is so particular on how it is supposed to sound, said Pitrelli. "We take an awfully long time to make an album. We just want to make sure it lives up to our expectations, as well as our fans', whom we call the 'TSO Community."'

If you go ...

What: Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Where: EnergySolutions Arena, 301 W. South Temple

When: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.

How much: $36-$46

Phone: 325-7328

Web: www.energysolutionsarena.com

E-mail: scott@desnews.com