There's Know Place Like Home
For a band that hasn’t released new music in nearly a decade, Kansas is still a viable musical force — continually active on the live circuit with a bountiful 35-year history to give them wings. To celebrate this milestone, the present core band, a couple of special former members and a 50-piece orchestra decided to throw a party at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, and film it for prosperity. There’s Know Place Like Home, a CD and a DVD that document the three-night stand, is something any Kansas fan worth his weight in wheat and breadbaskets is gonna want.
“Howling At The Moon,” excerpted from the Leftoverture epic “Magnum Opus,” leads the way before the band — vocalist/keyboardist Steve Walsh, drummer Phil Ehart, bassist Billy Greer, guitarist Rich Williams and violinist David Ragsdale — strolls back in time to the very beginning with “Belexes,” a fan favorite from the group’s 1974 self-titled debut. A range of choice cuts from the 70s follow — 1977’s “Point of Know Return,” 1975’s “Song For America” and “On The Other Side” from 1979’s Monolith album.
Wunderkind guitarist Steve Morse, who logged time with Kansas in the late 80s, comes out to play on the instrumental “Musicatto” from 1986’s Power and the “Ghosts/Rainmaker” medley from 1988’s vastly underrated In The Spirit Of Things, a glossy concept album produced by Bob Ezrin. After the heavily orchestrated “Nobody’s Home” leaves the crowd gasping for more, the band’s original visionary and guitarist Kerry Livgren pops out for 1980’s “Hold On.” Despite his impressive fretwork on this number, it would have been nice to see Livgren on more of the songs he wrote, which comprise a huge chunk of the band’s best bits. You take what you can get.
Livgren exits just as the intensity rises with the haunting “Cheyenne Anthem.” Beautifully sung by both Greer and Walsh, this inspiration hymn for the American Indian is a riveting call-and-response between the band and the orchestra, setting the foundation for the double progressive gravy train of “Icarus II” (from 2000’s Somewhere To Elsewhere) and “Icarus: Borne On Wings Of Steel” (from 1975’s Masque). This is where the present incarnation justify their continued existence. Walsh sings with all the power and passion of a man half his age. Ehart is still one of the great unheralded drummers of the classic rock era, while Greer and Williams wield high and mighty on their respective axes. And Ragsdale’s prodigious attack on the violin is simply breathtaking.
From there, it’s onto more Leftoverture (“The Wall” and “Miracles Out Of Nowhere”) with a slight detour into the early 80s with “Fight Fire With Fire.” The John Elefante single kept the band on the charts despite the absence of Walsh and a more pious positioning within the camp. Of course, the hits that turned the fortunes of Kansas are the final two: “Dust In The Wind” and “Carry On Wayward Son.” Livgren returns on acoustic as Ragsdale and Morse (!) duet on violin (or is it viola?) during the break of the former. For the latter, all hell breaks loose. Livgren rips off a few out-of-left-field leads while the song’s era-ingrained chorus shifts the crowd to its loafers. As a special bonus, a soundcheck of “Down The Road” features all the musicians in full glory. What a shame the crowd didn’t get to see this jam between Williams, Livegren and Morse.
Conspicuously missing from the show is original bassist Dave Hope (now a preacher) and violinist Robby Steinhardt. John Elefante, Kansas lead vocalist from 1981 to 1984, may have thrown an odd twist into the concert if he had come out and sang “Fight Fire With Fire.” The Grammy-winning producer was either uninvited or didn’t want to be bothered. None of this prevents There’s Know Place Like Home from being what it sets out to be: a celebration of timeless music from America’s heartland.
~ Shawn Perry