April 26, 2017
The Wiltern
Los Angeles, CA

Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Ron Lyon

Taken at face value, Kansas is viewed as another American band with a few hits in the 70s and 80s. Of course, there’s so much more to the band than “Dust In The Wind” and “Point Of Know Return.” Many of their deeper cuts resonate with the same intensity, erudition and level of musicianship as proggy contemporaries Yes and Genesis. Yet, their image comes across as more homespun and middle America, often linked with bands with a more mainstream, straight-ahead approach.

Now, 40 years after the release of their landmark album Leftoverture, Kansas has somehow managed to reinvent themselves in the wake of shifting personnel. Releasing a new album, The Prelude Implicit, and hitting the road with a head-spinning set of old and new, Kansas are a band reborn. At the Wiltern, they spent over two hours mining the catalog and the chemistry to the delight of 2,000 loyal Wheatheads.

Right from the start, Kansas took hold of the situation by opening with a five-song acoustic set. For most other bands, a move like this can spell catastrophe, especially if the audience is a restless, rowdy bunch, ready to party. Fortunately for Kansas, their devoted following is ready to accept them on any terms. A slow build-up to the power and majesty of the music can actually work as an advantage for a band like Kansas.

So they floated easily into “The Coming Dawn (Thanatopsis)” from 2000’s Somewhere To Elsewhere, the last Kansas album to feature founding members Kerry Livgren, Robby Steinhardt, Dave Hope and Steve Walsh (“Icarus II,” from the same album, would open the “electric” portion of the show). Bassist Billy Greer, with Kansas since 1985, sang the lead vocals before handing off “Hold On,” “Chasing Shadows” Reason To Be,” and “Refugee” to the band’s newest member, singer Ronnie Platt.

The band clearly warmed up, especially violinist David Ragsdale whose turns during the acoustic set colored the music with auspicious hope, they employed the soothing chords of “Icarus II” as the perfect gateway to its more dramatic predecessor, “Icarus – Borne On Wings Of Steel,” from the band’s third album, 1975’s Masque. Afterwards, Greer, who did most of the in-between-songs talking, reminded everyone of the 40th anniversary of Leftoverture (the whole album, in its entirety, would be performed later), before the band went into “Point Of Know Return.”

They say you can judge a band by how good their drummer is. From any view, Phil Ehart is on the mark, precise in his execution, and very much in charge of the pace and tempo at which the band operates. He definitely kept the other players on their toes, when it came to soloing and instrumental cutaways and changes. This became apparent during heavy, time-signature jumpers from the far-out, early days like “Journey From Mariabronn” and “Lamplight Symphony.” This is where the bounds of the band’s interaction was thoroughly tested and put through the ropes, passing with remarkable elasticity.

Pratt proved he was more than capable of singing the classic Kansas songs with all the nuances and passion of Walsh. This made newer songs like “The Voyage Of Eight Eighteen” and “Section 60” more palpable to the mix, whereby the timbre of Platt’s voice ingrained itself into the Kansas sound. Clearly, the singer, along with other new recruits — keyboardist Dave Manion and guitarist Aak Rizvi, who played a big role in the production and songwriting on The Prelude Implicit — have adapted to the Kansas modus vivendi, when it comes to how the music is shaped, formed and presented.

“Dust In The Wind,” noticeably absent from the acoustic set, prompted most everyone in the room to pull out their phones and capture the moment for prosperity and bragging rights. The spotlight fell on Rich Williams, the band’s other original member, who lead the acoustic charge for this one. Greer harmonized the second verse with Platt before Ragsdale played the song’s famous violin solo. This was validation that this was indeed the Kansas everyone knew, loved and wanted to hear.

It was only a hint of what was to come. Once Kansas settled into “Carry On My Wayward Son.” The next 50 minutes or so was all about Leftoverture. The energy level took a step up — even Ragsdale laid down an impressive guitar lead on “What’s On My Mind.” The audience saved their biggest ovation for “Miracles Out Of Nowhere,” but the one-two pounce of “Cheyenne Anthem” and “Magnum Opus” surely left everyone’s jaw agape at the sheer power, density and detail to attention.

An encore of “Portrait” (He Knew)” reminded everyone of the arsenal of hits the group produced in their hey-day. Make no mistake though — this is a band that's not about to rest on past glories. With new music and new players comes a renewed sense of purpose and urgency, even if the numbers aren’t what they used to be. Their show at the Wiltern was a strong indication of more to come from a band that's going to carry on....


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