Kauffman Performing Arts Theater
Kansas City, MO
Words By Jeb Wright
Photos by Mark Schierholz
The Coming Dawn (Thanatopsis) | Hold On | Chasing Shadows | Reason to Be | Refugee
Icarus II | Icarus - Borne on Wings of Steel | Journey From Mariabronn | Lamplight Symphony | Dust in the Wind | With This Heart | Rhythm in the Spirit | The Unsung Heroes | The Voyage of Eight Eighteen | Section 60
Carry On Wayward Son | The Wall | What's on My Mind | Miracles Out of Nowhere | Opus Insert |Questions of My Childhood | Cheyenne Anthem | Magnum Opus
Portrait (He Knew)
Phil Ehart- Drums
Richard Williams- Lead Guitar
Billy Greer- Bass and Vocals
Ronnie Platt - Vocals and Keyboard
David Ragsdale- Violin and Guitar
Zak Rizvi – Guitar and Vocals
David Manion – Keyboards
In a day and age when many bands from the ‘classic’ era of the ‘70s are content to play the local corn dog festival, or the local casino gig, Kansas members continue to challenge themselves and stand out from the others like a shining star. Sure, they play casinos now and then… the money’s good. I know I have eaten a corn dog at a Kansas show in the past… however, I’ve also seen them growing, honing their skills and going through a growth spurt that few bands of their ilk go through. The proof of this statement was the sold out show at the swanky Kauffman Performing Arts Center on October 22nd.
Kansas is not resting on their laurels or their past accomplishments. Instead, they are continuing to find ways to reinvent themselves as well as push themselves to excellence… and, they are overachieving on both fronts. From the nostalgic move of performing the entire classic album Leftoverture (the album celebrates its 40th anniversary this year) to performing six songs that same evening from their stunning new release The Prelude Implicit, Kansas is a band on a musical mission. They whipped out a two and a half hour set that left the audience wanting another two and half hours. On stage they were poised, professional and flawless… other than a really funny moment when violinist/guitarist David Ragsdale became entangled in his own instrument cord of some sort. He needed a bit of help to untie himself from self-imposed bondage before the band could continue. Other than that, the evening went off without a hitch.
Speaking of Ragsdale, he is a true unsung hero at times in the band. He handles the violin parts with ease. He adds several spicy guitar solos during his performance and he does so with a huge smile on his face. He’s not the only one. The entire band is an ensemble of stellar musicians and masters of their craft. Newest member Zak Rizvi throws in some Yngwie J. Malmsteen type runs that build energy, though most of the time he is content to play his supporting role on guitar while adding background vocals. He and Ragsdale often play in tandem with impeccable timing.
On the other side of the stage on this night was lead guitarist Richard Williams. Rich may be the most tasteful player in rock ‘n’ roll. He plays incredibly difficult passages without making a spectacle of himself. He accents tunes at times while at others he blasts out powerful chords that push the musical voyage to the point of (*ahem*spelled correctly) no return.
Bassist Billy Greer is consistent in his approach and is the emcee for the band. He holds the low-end down and allows others to paint the soundscape. David Manion quietly plays keyboards with the prowess of Keith Emerson. He is proficient and unassuming. I think he could be in front or behind you at the concession stand and you would not notice. Musically, however, he is a rock star—well, as much of a rock star as a keyboard player can be! (Ooops… Sorry, Jon Lord…)
Ronnie Platt has all eyes upon him as he is the new voice of Kansas. Replacing the iconic voice of Steve Walsh is impossible. So Ronnie just does what he does… very well. At times his cadence and timbre sounds like Walsh. At time he pulls off the subtleties of John Elefante. Most of the time, he is just the amazing Ronnie Platt. The boy can sing the right notes in the right way and he has a way of making people like him. In other words, he’s dangerous—but in a good way. Kansas hired the correct person in Ronnie Platt. Simply put, he can hit the right notes and the high notes… and then some.
Phil Ehart sits atop his drum riser nary flashing a smile. At times almost looking angry, but in reality, it is that Phil is totally focused on the task at hand. He is the boiler room for the Kansas sound. He pushes, he pounds, he accents, he leads… Ehart is one of the best in the business. When he shows his skills, such as in the hard rocking section of “Miracles Out of Nowhere” one wonders why this man is not mentioned more often in the Bruford-Collins-Palmer-Peart prog-discussion. He deserves to be. He has worked hard and earned it. When you see him live, you won’t leave him from the discussion again.
On this night, Kansas began their 150 minute set without Ehart as they trotted out five acoustic numbers. Of the five, only one was a huge hit. One was new and the other three were Wheathead pleasing deep album cuts, none more so than “The Coming Dawn (Thanatopsis)” which appeared originally on their previous studio effort Somewhere to Elsewhere in the year 2000. “Hold On” was up next. The classic tune from 1980’s Audio Visions is a haunting track when played with no electric guitars. Ragsdale performed the memorable guitar solo on his violin note-perfect. “Chasing Shadows” was a song foreign to many of the casual fans. The song originally appeared on 1982’s Vinyl Confessions. It is a gem unearthed from the not-as-popular John Elefante era.
The band has been playing “Reason to Be” for a while now. The song, another diamond in the rough that first appeared on 1979’S Monolith, is a nice ditty that the hardcore fans love. The acoustic set was topped off with a heart wrenching song titled “Refugee” from 2016’s The Prelude Implicit that tackles the topic of child-trafficking and sex industry. It is a somber song to say the least, and it is meant to be thought provoking.
One by one, each member of the band snuck off stage, returning with their electric instruments in hand. Ehart manned the drums and the ‘electric section’ of the evening began with a return to Somewhere to Elsewhere and the tune “Icarus II” which was promptly followed by the hit song from 1975’s Masque “Icarus: Borne on Wings of Steel.” This is one of the bands heaviest tunes, and every time it is trotted out it is well received. Next up saw the crowd let out a big cheer as Billy Greer introduced a song from the band’s 1974 self-titled debut. “Journey From Mariabronn” saw the band kicking it up a notch both in terms of volume and complexity. This is a classic tune that helped introduce the world to the Kansas sound. The following song was a total shock. “Lamplight Symphony” from the band’s 1975 album Song For America is one of the Kansas‘ most progressive songs. The fan club, called The Wheatheads, took up most of the first few rows and one could tell by their sheer admiration for the song that they were over the top emotionally with this songs inclusion in this evening’s performance. “Dust in Wind” was played next, and as one would expect, it was met with the respect the song deserves.
The surprises kept coming as Kansas would end up playing songs from ten different albums. A banner featuring their album art for The Prelude Implicit was unveiled and the band went into the first of five new songs. “With This Heart” is a song that shows the more pop-oriented side of the band. It is a solid representation of this side of Kansas and is very welcome in the set list. “Rhythm in the Spirit” has perhaps the heaviest guitar section in Kansas history and Rich and Zak pack a true six-string punch in this new number. “Unsung Heroes” is a new song that Ronnie Platt shines on the vocals. This boy can sing! Musically, it is classic Kansas… mostly. During the verse it gets a bit schmaltzy and un-Kansas like. Some will dig that and some may find that part corny… despite what one thinks, however, Ronnie delivers huge.
The song on The Prelude Implicit that has the progressive rocking fans drooling like it is 1975 again is “The Voyage of Eight Eighteen.” This song is hands down the best new song Kansas has put out in over a quarter of a century. This song is simply amazing in every aspect. The new set ended with the instrumental “Section 60.” The song was written to honor the fallen men and woman of the Gulf War. Those who gave, and will give, the ultimate sacrifice in this war will be buried in Section 60 of Arlington Cemetery. At the end of this song a solider presents a folded American flag as the music ends with a funeral dirge performed by Ehart. This is very powerful visually, sonically and emotionally.
Everyone in the house expected the band to take a break before carrying on. We were all incorrect. The hall filled with the sound of an FM radio dial being spun by a listener. Several seconds of many classic 1970s tunes were spun by before stopping on the vocal intro to “Carry On Wayward Son.” When it came time for the famous drum down beat, Ehart took over and the band kicked in with the classic riff that made this band a household name.
The entire album was performed in the order of the original release. The backdrop suddenly dropped and was replaced with the back album cover of the Leftoverture album. The timing was impeccable. The band went through three songs in a row that are simply rock perfection. “The Wall,” “What’s On My Mind,” and “Miracles Out of Nowhere” is one heck of a way to follow the album opener “Carry On Wayward Son.” “Opus Insert” is always a fun tune and “Questions of My Childhood,” never performed live before this tour, turned out to be a fun song live. “Cheyenne Anthem” is another powerful tune, both musically and lyrically. The song moves through many different phases and leaves a lasting impression.
The final song of the main set was “Magnum Opus.” The “Howling at the Moon” opening section saw Platt appear up in the boxes at stage left. With the spotlight on him he sang the opening lyrics and the crowd howled right on cue. From that moment on it was nothing but the band. Rizvi and Williams took the audience on a guitar feast of riffs, licks, snarls and solos. The rest of the band added their sections and the perfect musical storm was blasted out for everyone to enjoy. Difficult, challenging and fun to perform, Kansas faithful should demand it be played during every concert going forward!
The encore for the evening was “Portrait (He Knew)” from Point of Know Return. Again, this is yet another timeless classic. It should be noted that Point will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year! Hmmmmmmmm… Yeah, that would be an awesome show as well.
The band took a bow and were joined by a famous mustache… attached to the face of a famous songwriter. Kerry Livgren was in the house and he was smiling ear-to-ear watching his old band mates perform both their new material -written without him- as well as the timeless classics that Kerry penned. The fans happened to be on their feet anyway, but this made them all cheer even louder.
Kansas is a testament to hard work, dedication and passion. They care about their legacy… their fans… their performances and they care about their music. Kansas is not just a band… Kansas is a damn fine band. The current lineup may contain a few new faces but the commitment to excellence is apparent. The commitment to the past, present and future of Kansas music is also very much alive and well… perhaps more so than in the last two decades.
Kansas kicked ass in Kansas City… yet they did so without arrogance. They had a musical job to do and they did it with expertise and aplomb. They walked away with their heads held high. They are carrying on as strong as ever before, performing both the new and the old songs as if their musical lives depended on it.