This is the new live release from U.S. pomp rockers Kansas, celebrating 40 years of their breakthrough album, Leftoverture, which is featured in its entirety alongside some old classics, little performed number and three tracks from their 2016 release, The Prelude Implicit.
Recorded in 12 cities on this year’s trek around the U.S.A., it works as a good retrospective of tracks from throughout their long career. The sound, by ace producer Jeff Glixman, is crystal clear and it is a welcome addition to the Kansas catalogue. Opening with Icarus II from the late ’90s Somewhere to Elsewhere album, it is immediately apparent how glad Kansas are to be back with new material to play after the departure of long serving vocalist Steve Walsh in 2014, his replacement, ex-Shooting Star singer Ronnie Platt, sharing a similar range and dynamic.
After the strong introduction, out comes a growling synth from David Manion offset with David Ragsdale’s violin on the classic Icarus – Borne on Wings of Steel from 1975’s Masque, moving along briskly fuelled by Ragsdale whilst the meaty rhythm section provides suitably robust backing, before a short guitar burst from Richard Williams ushers in Ronnie Platt’s vocals. This is a re-energised Kansas and I for one am very glad to hear these guys back where they belong, onstage and tearing it up once again.
Next we are treated to strong versions of Paradox and Point Of Know Return, from the album of that name, one of their finest in my opinion. Paradox has a chugging keyboard opening, the band following in and playing up a real storm. And then there’s Ronnie again, making the song his own, stamping his identity all over it and showing that whilst he has a similar range and style to Steve Walsh, he is no copycat or clone. It’s familiar but subtly different.
This album is a real treat for me. I’ve been a fan of Kansas since the early seventies, hearing them on The Old Grey Whistle Test where Journey From Mariabron was set to a black and white cartoon, and have been mesmerised by them ever since, buying every release and being fortunate enough to see them in 1998 at Walt Disney World in Florida with Steve Morse on guitar and Steve Walsh on vocals. From the 1972 self-titled debut album, Journey From Mariabron features here, everyone in the band recapturing the magic of the original version. Some 45 years on this is still an amazing song with its fantastic vocal refrains and strong melody still soaring. A true classic.
We trek forward again to Masque for a stroll through Lamplight Symphony with its muscular riff and delicate vocal. I can’t really express how happy hearing this song makes me feel, I love this incarnation of Kansas and how they can look back fondly and yet still move forwards afresh. This in no mere nostalgia version but the real McCoy and I’m very glad as this band mean so much to so many to fall by the wayside or into the greatest hits tribute tours that many U.S. acts seem to be doing nowadays.
Of special mention here are the consistency of Phil Ehart’s drums and Billy Greer’s solid bass, together forming a formidable foundation for everyone else to spring off, including the great guitar work of Richard Williams and new recruit Zak Rizvi. Out come the lighters (or maybe it’s all iphones these days) for the evergreen Dust In The Wind – why didn’t Kansas record a live DVD at the same time as that would have made this an unbeatable package.
Dust In The Wind sounds slightly different, somehow it doesn’t have its usual brightness, but this is still a perfectly fine version with the usual faultless harmony vocals and a great violin break from Ragsdale; no wonder this is staple of FM Radio stateside. Then come the three new tracks from The Prelude Implicit, a chance for fans to hear new songs, beginning with Rhythm In The Spirit, a lovely number featuring a great guitar solo from Williams. The song comes across well live with its snaky riff and strong vocals – sterling stuff. The Voyage of Eight Eighteen begins with a typical David Ragsdale section with strong rhythm backing before Ronnie Platt’s vocal floats across it all. Finally Section 60 honours the U.S. military personnel who gave their lives and are buried in that section of Arlington National Cemetery in Washington D.C., the tone being suitably respectful whilst retaining its bite. A moving tribute indeed, handled with grace and dignity, and with sturdy marching drum rolls from Ehart in the finale.
Disc two is where the real celebrations begin as Leftoverture performed in full, including seldom played pieces like Question of My Childhood, but opening with crowd favourite Carry On Wayward Son, which has a false start before the classic song is unleashed in all its glory. And what a song it still is; it made Kansas the band they are today, a song that saved their career and brought them well deserved multi-platinum success. A very fine song, it’s a part of the Prog canon that we seldom honour, and this version ticks all the boxes. The Wall, with its soaring guitar introduction and earnest, impassioned vocals, is another treat, proving exactly why Kansas are held in such high esteem by many prog fans and musicians alike.
You begin to understand just what a masterpiece Leftoverture is and how well its songs have stood the test of time. Quite why this album isn’t as well regarded as, say, Yes’ Close To The Edge remains a mystery to me, perhaps we Brits never caught this the same way as the rest of the world. Our loss surely.
What’s On My Mind is one of the lesser played songs but it’s marvellous and very well written. I’m surprised they haven’t played it live more often as it’s a real corker. The familiar chords of Miracles Out Of Nowhere are unveiled and David Ragsdale takes flight once more for another fine version of a classic song. There’s a brief keyboard solo from David Manion before Ragsdale takes centre stage to play the stately melody line. There is so much to enjoy here and this Leftoverture section is very strong and most enjoyable indeed.
Opus Insert is another lesser played song, but to be honest it’s not their finest moment, and is soon over before Questions of My Childhood makes a great impression, revealing itself as a compelling number with strong performances all round. Again not a long song but it still sounds strong by today’s standards.
Cheyenne Anthem is more well known and it’s a joy to listen to again, with its acoustic guitar opening and heartfelt sentiments this wistful commentary on the worth of human life is honest, open, warm and well received, featuring great playing from all. The rippling piano from David Manion adds a touch of class to proceedings, alongside a strong melody line from Williams and more crisp snare fills from Ehart to bring this great song to a suitable conclusion, ending as it started with fine acoustic guitar work. A suitably elegant and yet charged song that leads to Magnum Opus as the penultimate song of this disc, the growling Moog opening followed by a powerful bass statement from Billy Greer before Williams’ guitar and Platt’s strong yet wistful vocals. A guitar and violin section is topped off with synths as the meaty riff is worked by all in a flurry of violin, keyboards, drums and guitar in something of a prog jam. It’s a great segment which works really well here before things draw to a mighty close amidst thunderous drums and furious guitar squeals.
The crowd demand an encore and Kansas return to perform Portrait (He Knew) from Point Of Know Return with its surging Hammond riff, a truly fabulous way to end what has been a triumph for this now ageing band (the average age being 60). This great song is a solid favourite of many, including me, and it’s a treasure to hear it performed with such class, energy and panache. There’s a good extended section to close too, impressive stuff and it’s refreshing to see such energy and hunger still.
This is a great album and if you are familiar with Kansas at all you too will be as gripped as I was. A truly amazing band showing their skill in a live arena as Kansas Roll ever onward.
01. Icarus II (7:15)
02. Icarus – Borne on Wings of Steel (6:27)
03. Point of Know Return (4:10)
04. Paradox (4:07)
05. Journey From Mariabron (8:03)
06. Lamplight Symphony (8:16)
07. Dust In The Wind (3:49)
08. Rhythm In The Spirit (5:30)
09. The Voyage of Eight Eighteen (7:54)
10. Section 60 (3:57)
Total Time – 59:24
Disc 2 – Leftoverture Live:
01. Carry On Wayward Son (5:37)
02. The Wall (5:23)
03. Whats On My Mind (3:49)
04. Miracles Out Of Nowhere (7:13)
05. Opus Insert (4:41)
06. Question Of My Childhood (3:54)
07. Cheyenne Anthem (7:11)
08. Magnum Opus (9:59)
09. Portrait (He Knew) (9:20)
Total Time – 59:14
Phil Ehart – Drums & Percussion
Billy Greer – Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Vocals
David Manion – Keyboards, Vocals
Ronnie Platt – Lead Vocals, Keyboards
David Ragsdale – Violin, Vocals
Zak Rizvi – Guitars, Vocals
Richard Williams – Electric & Acoustic Guitars
Record Label: Inside Out
Date of Release: 3rd November 2017