Point Of Know Return Live & Beyond

Kansas

Inside Out, 2021

http://www.kansasband.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/30/2021

Kansas is one of those long-running bands that, by all rights, shouldn’t still exist, with just two original members remaining, and all three of the classic lineup’s main composers and singers absent. That the band is both still with us, and sounding as powerful and dynamic as it is, is no small miracle.

After a couple of false starts, the band people would become familiar with convened in 1973 around songwriter/guitarist Kerry Livgren and singer/songwriter/keyboardist Steve Walsh, with Robby Steinhardt’s violin and occasional lead vocals also prominently featured. The founding lineup also included Phil Ehart (drums), Dave Hope (bass) and Rich Williams (guitars). For the current album the band consists of Ehart and Williams, longtime members Billy Greer (bass/vocals) and David Ragsdale (violin/guitar), and a trio of relatively new recruits: Tom Brislin (keys/vocals), Ronnie Platt (lead vocals/occasional keys) and the since-departed Zak Rizvi (guitar). Considering that Ehart and Williams have now been road warriors for the better part of 50 years, you might anticipate some wear and tear, slowed-down tempos and such; it’s a common enough phenomenon with other bands of this vintage. But no—this lineup plays the Kansas classics with all the muscle and majesty you could hope for.

The defining characteristic of Kansas—besides sheer persistence—is their successful melding of progressive rock with radio-friendly melodic AOR, inside a uniquely midwestern musical sensibility that also embraces pensive Americana and hints of boogie. (Can you imagine ZZ Top double-billed with Yes? Yikes. But Kansas could match up well with either one.) That sensibility has survived myriad lineup changes, including a regrettable early ’80s feint toward radio pop that is thankfully ignored here.

In 2016 Kansas celebrated the 40th anniversary of its first hit album Leftoverture by building a live set around a full play-through of the album. Their 2017 double-live release Leftoverture Live & Beyond captured that experience, which they followed up in 2019 by building a fresh set around a front-to-back replay of the band’s biggest selling album Point Of Know Return, and once again recording the shows for a companion double-live album. (One poignant footnote—the Point Of Know Return anniversary tour was cut off by COVID, with tracks on this release taken from shows played between April 2019 and March 7, 2020, days before the world locked down.)

The band sounds invigorated and enthusiastic from the first note, and part of the reason for that may be because they do something that too many acts of similar vintage don’t. Yes, they’re playing all of an entire classic album that everyone’s familiar with, in order, but for the rest of the selections on this double disc, 22-track, two-hour album, they make some remarkably gutsy picks of seriously deep cuts. Kansas rewards long-term fans again and again by pulling out stuff that hasn’t been heard live in years, if ever, and they play every song like it matters, because it appears to matter to them. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The first half of the show mixes familiar album tracks with seriously deep cuts. Sure, we remember “The Wall” and “Miracles Out Of Nowhere” from Leftoverture, but in between and around them, Kansas feature a rippling, dynamic run at “Song Of America,” a genuine prog epic from their second album, along with a quartet of songs that only true Wheatheads would recognize: “Cold Grey Morning” from 1995’s Freaks Of Nature, “Two Cents Worth” from 1975’s Masque, and then “Musicatto” and “Taking In The View” from the 1986 Power album, during the brief period when Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple) was in the band. Add in “Summer” from their then-most-recent 2016 album The Prelude Implicit, and you’ve got a set that’s bound to please longtime fans eager to go deeper than those same familiar hits.

The second disc opens with a front-to-back reading of Point Of Know Return that sounds as fresh as the day it came out, from the searching, exuberant title track through key cuts like “Portrait (He Knew)” and “Closet Chronicles” and the massive hit single “Dust In The Wind.” From start to finish it’s vigorous and melodic and a testament to both the craft of the compositions and the skill and enthusiasm of the players rendering them.

Maybe the most remarkable thing is that none of the second- and third-generation players simply imitate the originals they’re replacing. Ronnie Platt’s voice is similar to Steve Walsh’s, but not identical, and he doesn’t try to force it; he honors the original vocal melodies while singing naturally and powerfully. The same is true for Brislin playing Walsh’s parts, Ragsdale playing Steinhardt’s, and so on—each player honors the original’s work while bringing his own distinctive flair, and those choices only elevate the performances.

The band closes the main set with the one song you know will be played at every Kansas show for as long as the group remains active: “Carry On Wayward Son.” Along with “Point Of Know Return,” it’s both a legitimate prog song with complex changes in tempo and tone, and a catchy-as-hell radio single.

For the encores it’s back to the vaults, as they pull out “People Of The South Wind,” a rather poppy let’s-write-a-single tune from 1980’s Monolith that features a smoking Brislin solo, followed by another then-new song from The Prelude Implicit (the violin-led “Refugee”). The evening closes out with a cut from the band’s very first album (“Lonely Wind”). None of this final trio carries a big punch musically until the final verse of “Lonely Wind,” when the whole band comes in strong to close things out on a high note.

Other than the obvious gotta-play-’em hits and a couple of notable album tracks, there are no repeats between Leftoverture Live & Beyond and this sequel. Their peer group of long-tenured bands would do well to pay attention to Kansas’ example; this is how it’s done, playing the familiar classics with genuine fire while mixing up the setlist and pulling out deep tracks from your catalogue to reward faithful fans. It’s impossible to say how long this renaissance may last, but for the moment the current lineup of Kansas has gelled beautifully and appears to have plenty of miles left in the tank.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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