Kansas: Two Nights Live!

Kansas with Blue Oyster Cult
FireLake Grand Casino
Shawnee, OK

March 27, 2015
By Jeb Wright

Blue Oyster Cult Set List:
OD'd on Life Itself | Burnin' for You | Career of Evil | Buck's Boogie | ME 262 | Then Came the Last Days of May | Godzilla | (Don't Fear) The Reaper

Kansas Set List:
People of the South Wind | Point of Know Return | What's on My Mind | Play the Game Tonight | The Wall | Reason To Be | Dust in the Wind| Miracles Out of Nowhere | Opus Insert | Hold On | Belexes | Sparks of the Tempest

Fight Fire with Fire | Carry On Wayward Son

The band Kansas is riding high on the recent success of their amazing documentary, titled Miracles out of Nowhere, which chronicles the band’s journey from being six young dudes from Topeka, Kansas to the world’s stage.  The film is a celebration of their most commercially successful period, and for two nights in March of 2015 somewhere in the Midwest, Kansas performed many of the songs responsible for that success.  The following review will cover both the show in Shawnee, Oklahoma and their concert in Kansas City, where two former original members joined them on stage!  More on that later…

March 27th saw the band roll into Shawnee, Oklahoma and share the bill with special guest Blue Oyster Cult. This may seem like an odd pairing at first glance… however, the two bands, both with very unique styles and sounds, complement each other very well. 

BOC in 2015 is comprised of original members Eric Bloom (vocals/guitar/keyboard) and Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser (vocals/guitar), along with Kasim Sulton (bass), Richie Castellano (guitar/keyboards) and Jules Radino (drums).  This version of BOC works well.  They play together as a unit and, to be honest, were stronger band-wise than this writer has seen in years.  The only regret on this evening was a technical glitch at the arena that shut down the computers and delayed the start of the show, meaning BOC had to cut their set short, squeezing-in only eight songs.  They did make the most of their time, however, trotting out many of the band’s most beloved tunes. 

Eric Bloom and Buck Dharma both were strong vocally.  Bloom is a joy to watch on stage, as he works the audience and gets them fired-up.  Dharma can still flat out play a cool solo as he did on “Buck’s Boogie.”  For the band’s classic “Then Came the Last Days of May,” Buck soloed and then gave the spotlight to Richie Castellano who then put on an inspired lead guitar clinic. The man’s fingers worked the fret board, bringing around the first standing ovation of the evening.  Other hit songs that were played included “Burnin’ for You,” “Godzilla” and the iconic “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” in which Kansas drum technician Eric Holmquist helped the band by performing the cowbell part (while donning a clown mask…now THAT’S talent). BOC’s short set was power packed and played well, leaving the audience energized and waiting for the evening’s main act: Kansas. 

Before moving forward, it must be noted that Kansas recently made some huge changes in their line-up, the most obvious being the replacement of retired original vocalist Steve Walsh.  This was a move that, despite the fact that Walsh had began to struggle vocally, many hardcore fans hated to see.  It was a gusty move by the band to carry on without one of their main ‘focal points’, but, as the next two evenings would prove, it was a very successful move, indeed. 

Today Kansas consists of original members Phil Ehart (drums/percussion), Rich Williams (guitars) with longtime members Billy Greer (bass/vocals), David Ragsdale (violin/guitars/vocals) and newcomers Ronnie Platt (lead vocals/keyboards) and David Manion (keyboards/vocals).  The man with the largest bull’s-eye on his back, however, is Platt… for it was his task to perform the parts formerly sung by Steve Walsh and John Elefante. 

I had not yet heard Platt perform with Kansas, though I had met him and seen him perform with Shooting Star.  I knew he would be good, but I didn’t know just how good.  I was fortunate to learn what the fans were in-store for on this evening before Kansas even took the stage. I was backstage before the show speaking with Rich Williams and his wife Debbie as Rich was warming up on his Paul Reed Smith guitar through a small practice amp.  Manion and Platt were playing keyboards and working out song sections as well.  Phil Ehart brought drum pads over near his band mates and sat down.  I retreated over to some sofas in the room and proceeded to sit in stunned silence as the band rehearsed several Kansas classics only a few feet away before my very eyes.  I watched, and listened in awe and was blown away when Platt belted out his vocals.  The band, even at such a low volume made a huge sound!  I couldn’t wait for the show to begin!   

It was clear from the very first song that Kansas is enjoying a rebirth, the new blood in the band firing them up and pushing them to the limits of their capabilities.  They are also re-introducing many songs not heard live for some time, including the opening song “People of the South Wind.”  This version was ‘less disco’ and more Kansas-styled rock and roll with Williams adding a killer solo and a bit more up-front guitar than is on the original song.   Kansas punched out “Point of Know Return” and “What’s On My Mind” as the crowd got into the show.  Next up was a more subdued and mellow version of their FM radio hit, “Play the Game Tonight.”  The groove was more Kansas-esque, and with the added violin and guitar solos made this song fresh.  “The Wall” brought the house down as it does every time they play it. 

A huge surprise was the inclusion of the acoustic number “Reason to Be,” from 1979’s Monolith.  The band was excited to reach deep into the catalog and the Wheatheads in the audience were thrilled.  There are few songs more iconic than “Dust in the Wind,” and the audience sang along to every word.  Next it was a trip to the classic album Leftoverture as Kansas played “Miracles Out of Nowhere” and “Opus Insert.” 

The hits kept coming as “Hold On” was met with a standing ovation, followed by the tune “Belexes” from the first album.  This is a very strong song and drummer Phil Ehart puts on a drum clinic, literally pounding the complex rhythms so hard one fears he may drive his kit through the stage!  In the middle of the tune Williams and Ragsdale team up to jam out the main solo to Point of Know Return’s “Lightning’s Hand.”  “Belexes” nearly takes ones breath away.  The song sways and swoons and builds to a fever pace and then builds some more!  Following a song that powerful is never easy, but the cool grove of “Sparks of the Tempest” did the trick.  At the end of the tune, the band put down their instruments and took a bow as the audience seems amazed as the song continued to play!  This is a cool trick!  The song looped on as the band smiled at their exercise in cleverness! 

Kansas returned for a two-song encore, beginning with the FM radio hit from Drastic Measures “Fight Fire with Fire” and the song we’d all been waiting for “Carry On Wayward Son.”  “Fight” includes some extra soloing that makes it a better song than it was back in the day.  “Wayward Son” is just a great song no matter what.  It ends the evening on a high note and the entire crowd leaves pumped up with their fists in the air. 

Day One of CRR’s two-day road trip was successful.  Onto Kansas City!!

Ameristar Casino
Kansas City, MO
March 28, 2015
By Jeb Wright

Set List:

People of the South Wind | Point of Know Return | What's on My Mind | Play the Game Tonight | The Wall | Reason To Be | Dust in the Wind| Miracles Out of Nowhere | Opus Insert | Closet Chronicles |Hold On (with Kerry Livgren) | Belexes | Portrait (He Knew) | Sparks of the Tempest (with Robby Steinhardt) 

Fight Fire with Fire | Carry On Wayward Son

The Ameristar Casino was sold out, as Kansas City is only down the road about an hour from Kansas the Band’s hometown of Topeka.  There was an energy in the room long before the lights dimmed.  The Wheatheads (the Kansas fan club) were well represented and were fired up from their pilgrimage to Burnett’s Mound in Topeka where they took a group photo. This is the same spot where both the front cover of the Miracles Out of Nowhere documentary was taken and the back of the band’s debut album. 

The set list on this night was not much different than the prior concert reviewed, although with no opening act to contend with they were able to include two more songs, both from the album Point of Know Return.  The surprise was “Closet Chronicles” which the band kicked in the backside.  This song was one of the strongest musical moments in an evening filled with great musical moments!  The other tune played on this night that was not in the previous evening’s set was “Portrait (He Knew),” which is always a crowd pleaser. 

The rest of the set may have been the same as the night before, but there were a couple of moments that had major differences!  When the band introduced original member and key songwriter Kerry Livgren and invited him to the stage for the song “Hold On,” the crowd was on its feet applauding.  When it came time for the solo to the song to be played, Livgren stepped up and nailed it!  Kerry is a stroke survivor, so to see him on stage, playing well and looking good was an inspirational moment for all.  The final number of the main set was, again, “Sparks of the Tempest”… only this time original member Robby Steinhardt took the stage and sang co-lead vocals with Platt.  While the big man did not play any violin, he air-violined a few times!  Steinhardt is recovering from heart surgery and we are happy to report his vocal abilities are just fine!  The encore brought down the house as “Fight Fire” and “Carry On Wayward Son,” once again did their job in ending the evening on a high note. 

This night’s concert saw the band even more jovial than the previous night, as David Ragsdale, Billy Greer and Ronnie Platt danced in unison at times.  A red and white striped oversized top hat made its way on stage and onto Platt’s head before getting onto the head of Ragsdale and then Steinhardt.  When Robby went over to Rich Williams to put the hat on Williams’ head the guitarist dashed and darted like a half back avoiding a tackle!  Williams stuck to his No Hat Rule, proving to the band that he can move much faster than they thought—all without missing a note! Robby eventually gave up and put the hat on Rich’s guitar stand.  Williams avoided a close call, as his past has been filled with hat disasters (see the “Fight Fire with Fire” video for proof).   

The evening was a huge success as the band and crowd were all smiles at the completion of the concert.  Kansas was in their element, and both the fans in attendance and the band were well aware that there is a new energy surrounding the band.  This was a great concert despite Kansas leaving “Song for America,” “Down the Road,” “Magnum Opus,” “Icarus – Borne on Wings of Steel,” “Child of Innocence,” “Mysteries and Mayhem,” “The Pinnacle” and “Cheyenne Anthem” all out of the set.  These facts speak volumes about how well Kansas is cranking it up and Classic Rock Revisited is excited for their future, as Kansas will likely mix these classics in and out of the set in gigs to come.   

In closing, it must be stated that replacing an original band member for any reason is not an easy task.  Every fan in the world would prefer to see the six original members on stage every night, but that is just not going to happen.  The latest to leave, Steve Walsh, gave his musical life to Kansas and his creative ghost shall always grace a Kansas stage.  We must remember, in this case, the members have chosen to leave by their own decision, or circumstance.  It makes those rare occasions when they grace the stage that much more special, but Kansas is a band, and not just one personalityand in 2015 that band is Williams, Ehart, Ragsdale, Greer, Manion and Platt.

The gut-level truth of the matter is that of the six original members, there are only two that want to be there, night in and night out, and they are Rich Williams and Phil Ehart.  Together, these men carry the torch and keep the legacy of the band alive, all the while forging ahead into the future.  They have done so for 41 years and both musicians should be commended for their dedication, passion and perseverance.  The new guys, however, don’t suck.  Manion on keyboards really brings something special to the show.  On stage he may be unassuming and quiet but, don’t be fooled; his contribution is large.  Platt, as mentioned, is a talent that must be seen and heard to truly be appreciated.  He is passionate, energetic, exciting to watch and he’s a nice guy with absolutely no hint of LSD (Lead Singers Disease… well, so far…)!  Greer handles the low end, is the emcee and has taken Robby’s place of saying “Good evening and welcome to Kansas” at the start of the show.  He’s been in the band thirty years, so saying he’s a replacement player seems kind of silly!  The other guy, Ragsdale, is a musical virtuoso who plays complicated violin passages and distorted electric guitar solos with ease.  He has a slight physique, so you might almost lose him onstage, but he has a giving spirit and a reverence for the music which he is performing.  While none of these men are part of the original six, their contributions are vast and they help keep the music fresh, exciting and alive. 

As for the two old guys, Williams and Ehart, they have weathered the storm, sailing past what appeared to be the point of no return many times over the past four decades.  Through it all, they have remained and they have excelled.  Williams is a rock.  Hat or no hat, the patch wearing guitar pirate supplies powerful phrasing and riffs, and delivers them with a tone that no set of gear alone can provide.  Rich, a true gear head, may mess with the pedals and buttons a lot, but what he dials in comes as much from his fingers and heart as it does the concoction of wires and gizmos he’s attached to on stage.  The Rich Williams sound lives and dies within Rich Williams, make no mistake about it!   

Phil Ehart, the drummer, manager and archivist of Kansas, is unassuming, quiet and even stoic… until he picks up the drum sticks.  Phil bleeds Kansas music and he takes his job seriously.  He gives his heart and soul to the music of Livgren and Walsh and he understands the importance of what they have created.  Simply put, in this writer’s opinion, without Ehart there is no Kansas.  Without Ehart there would never have been a Kansas. His leadership, musicianship and intelligence have been paramount in seeing the band not only survive to the modern day, but actually thrive, as they did on this night in 2015. 

Kansas is in a good place right now.  Their energy level is high and it’s infectious.  This is a band that not only wants to play live, they need to play live. Kansas has never been a band that gave less than 100 percent…now, however, they are giving a mathematically impossible 110%.  This is a great time to see this band.  Be sure to visit www.kansasband.com and keep your eyes on the tour dates.  When you see them coming to a town near you, then do what we did… ROAD TRIP!  You can email me and thank me after the show!

Just remember this: The odds of the original six hitting it big once they left Topeka were minuscule.  They truly beat the odds and brought a miracle out of nowhere.  Now, in 2015, with this line-up, the odds of striking Platinum are not so great. Still, I wouldn’t count them out.  The band said it themselves back in 1977….”No one will defeat me, no one can/I command the lightning's hand!”

Lightening does occasionally strike twice and, this is, after all, Kansas we’re talking about…

Order Miracles Out of Nowhere Here:  http://www.miraclesoutofnowhere.com/

Kansas Tour Dates: http://www.kansasband.com/tour.php