Home sweet home is Kansas, the band from the heartland who swept up the seventies with an unmistakable violin/keyboard blend and round melodic vocals. The band that virtually vanished during the eighties, was back. In an unlikely and first-time appearance at Staten Island’s own Rock Palace, the rejuvenated Kansas performed two nostalgic ten-song shows with surprisingly rousing musicianship and unrestrained energy. What’s more unusual is a Kansas tour across America that has lasted nearly one year without an album to promote. They aren’t signed to a label, and have a road manager who doubles as their lead keyboard player.
Greg Robert was hired as a sideman during Kansas’s 1987 tour and was subsequently credited with keyboards on the band’s In the Spirit of Things release from 1988. In between shows, on the band’s tour bus, he explained: “After In the Spirit of Things we kind of figured it was time to hang things up and go our separate ways, but in November of 1990, Phil Ehart (the band’s drummer) called to tell us there was interest in Europe for a brief tour and it went down really well. Phil persisted to reunite the group and we’ve been touring for a year now. Basically we’re back by popular demand.
The six-man group now features original members Steve Walsh (vocals and keyboards), Rich Williams (guitar), and Ehart (drums), as well as Billy Greer (bass and vocals) who worked with the Walsh side-project, Streets. Greg Roberts adds keyboards and backing vocals, along with the inspiring addition of David Ragsdale on electric violin, guitar, and backing vocals. Ragsdale’s presence revives the classic Kansas sound that had been missing for some time.
“The difference has been amazing with David on violin,” Robert said. “Kansas was without a violinist for almost ten years. We’re back to the original format.” The classically trained Ragsdale performed with the Tulsa Symphony and later with Louise Mandrell.
Kansas exclusively performed their well-known seventies material: “Paradox,” “Point of Know Return,” “Portrait (He Knew),” and the classic rock staple “Dust in the Wind.” And from their platinum-selling Leftoverture album, Kansas ripped out “The Wall,” “Miracles Out of Nowhere,” “Magnum Opus” (excerpts), and their tour de force “Carry On Wayward Son.”
The band went deep into their catalog as well with a fine multi-lead instrumental “Down the Road,” and the anthemic “Song for America.” On “Mysteries and Mayhem” Ragsdale intoned a smooth reverberated violin solo from Kansas’s Masque album. Ragsdale transitioned into a technically proficient but predictable stick guitar solo.
Walsh, who has always had one of the best voices in rock, revealed a slightly rougher-textured vocal and worked aggressively to hit his high notes. His countering of flawlessly sung three-part harmonies on the aforementioned “Carry On Wayward Son” was filled with pointed attack. The band sustained all the signature Kansas melodies with reverence but would also quickly switch gears and jam off each other—violin, keys, and guitar.
“The older material is really all we’re trying to do right now,” Robert added. “We’re doing it because it’s fun again and playing what people really want to hear.” Robert doesn’t mind playing music he wasn’t originally involved with. “The music speaks for itself; it’s being said that this is the best the band has ever sounded. But, it is a lot easier to go back and recreate something that’s already done as opposed to starting from scratch,” Robert noted.
Kansas has been approached about the possibility of recording a new record but there aren’t exactly running to get into the studio just yet.
“You can spend at least six months and devote all of your time to creating this child that you have little control of that someone may or may not promote as you would like. There has to be enough support behind a project so that the listener at least has a chance to decide whether he would want it or not. Right now, there isn’t another job with any band, anywhere, that I would rather have. When the time is right, we’ll record an album, but for now we’ll continue on this road.”
And the evidence speaks for itself. In their home state, Kansas quickly filled 6000 seats in the Kansas Coliseum. Former founding-member, keyboardist, guitarist, songwriter Kerry Livgren performed a one-off with his old band at The Whiskey-a-go-go in Los Angeles from which a full-length concert video will be released.