Kansas have given a lick of fresh paint on what was and remains great rock music. It is anything but dust in the wind.
I suspect very few Kansas fans would argue with the fact that the band’s creative peak came in 1976/1977 with the release of the Leftoverture and Point Of Know Return albums. They are two genuine masterpieces that have stood the test of time. It therefore came as no surprise that Kansas marked the 40th anniversary of Leftoverture by playing the full album on tour and then releasing it as Leftoverture Live & Beyond. This was followed by an anniversary tour for Point of Know Return (even if oddly it was the 41st anniversary year by the time the tour kicked off, and the 42nd by the time it had completed!) and that tour has now been immortalised in this release.
At the time of this tour, only Ehart on drums and Rich Williams on guitars remain from the original members who recorded Point Of Know Return but this line-up is a superb unit with Zak Rizvi on guitar outstanding. Having a top class vocalist in the form of Ronnie Platt really adds something too. So how do they tackle playing Point Of Know Return straight throughin the same order as the album? The answer is: quite brilliantly. If you are familiar with the original album then you’ll know it has a bit of a lightweight feel at times. Even when it rocks it seems to do so very politely. Interestingly, if you listen to the original band playing those tracks in the 1978 live album Two For The Show, they are almost identical to the studio versions. But four decades later the band have a much fuller sound and the guitar playing has a harder heavier edge. The title track demonstrates this change perfectly with an urgent, energetic version. Lightning’s Hand, perhaps the heaviest track on the original album, is delivered here almost in heavy metal mode with some great licks from Rizvi mixed in with some fine keyboards from Tom Brislin. The two longer more prog-oriented tracks – Closet Chronicles and Hopelessly Human – are perhaps not the best-suited to play on stage but both are delivered perfectly nonetheless. While many groups churn out tired renditions of classic albums which rarely add anything new of note, this is not the case here. The band have freshened up and modernised the sound, so much so that I might struggle to go back and enjoy the original studio version now.
As a double CD release, we get the full concert so there is much more than just the complete Point Of Know Return album which occupies most of the second CD. It is followed by the encore which rightly is Kansas’ most famous song, Carry On Wayward Son. I do have a gripe about the CD running order though because that encore would have been the perfect way to close the CD, just as it was for the tour, but instead we then get the three-song acoustic set that actually opened the gigs on that tour. Now I can understand it might be underwhelming to open the first CD with an acoustic set but they could easily have been placed it at the start of the second CD, thus giving a nice change of pace before the main course. Of those three acoustic tracks, two are 70’s classics – Lonely Wind and People Of The South Wind (no jokes about there being a lot of wind on this album, please!) – while the third is Refugees from 2016’s The Prelude Implicit which struck me as the best of the three with its gorgeous violin theme. It’s a sign that the current line-up remains a creative force.
The first CD is a fascinating mix of familiar classics and lesser-known material. Apart from a couple of tracks from Leftoverture (The Wall and Miracles Out Of Nowhere) there is no overlap with the set from the Leftoverture Live & Beyond release. Song From America is the other recognised classic Kansas track here and it is superbly executed. But, for those of us at risk of being overfamiliar with this catalogue, it is refreshing to see some unexpected and long forgotten material. Cold Gray Morning which opens the first CD is certainly one of these. It’s a track from 1995’s Freaks Of Nature album and yet musically would have sat comfortably on the better known ’70s albums. The group shows its ability to up the tempo and boogie along both in Two Cent’s Worth from 1975’s Masque, and Summer which is another excellent track from The Prelude Implicit. Perhaps the most fascinating material that’s been dug up is from 1986’s Power album which is when Walsh was joined by Steve Morse – an odd couple in hindsight. There’s an enjoyable ballad entitled Taking In The View but much more interesting is the instrumental Musicatto. The studio version is a slightly forgettable light prog-rock piece but here in the live environment we get a much more aggressive approach and that prog-rock feel is transformed into a progressive metal classic. Power is probably one of those albums sadly cursed by the production style of the ’80s.
There is a special limited-edition package with the 2 CDs being supplemented by a triple vinyl set. Those whose budget can stretch to the latter will certainly be able to better admire the wonderful album artwork which neatly depicts the fate of the ship from the original Point Of Know Return cover. Centre stage is the dragon which in the original release is sketched around the central picture of the ship. Very neat.
We’re living in a period during which many groups are cashing in on their legacy by playing tired versions of albums that perhaps might be best left in the proverbial attic. That’s certainly not the case here. Kansas have given a lick of fresh paint on what was and remains great rock music. It is anything but dust in the wind.