Kansas

February 20, 2010
Bergen Performing Arts Center
Englewood, NJ

Review by Ralph Greco, Jr.

I went in scared, I left emboldened.

I have seen Kansas a few times in my life. Going way back to 1978 when they were one of the biggest bands in the land to the late 80s when they weren't; and then a few years later when singer Steve Walsh's voice was so blown-out I was cringing.

Recently, I cautiously walked to my seat at my local north New Jersey Theatre hoping against all hope that the guys still had it and that Walsh had learned his limitations.

First up, for a quick 40 minutes, Native Window performed. The group is basically Kansas without Walsh. Musically though, the four-piece band’s songs vary from heavy like "Blood On the Water" to more vocal, pop-oriented stuff like "When Money Doesn't Matter Anymore."

Drummer Phil Ehart joked about warming up for Kansas. Seeing Ehart on such a small drum set really is a treat when compared to what he played behind later with Kansas. Dave Ragsdale kicked butt on violin while Billy Greer led it all with his spot-on lead vocals.

Guitarist Rich Williams is…well, dare I say, he’s great guitar player. In a strange and ironic twist, Native Window closed their brief set with the Kansas classic "People Of The South Wind."

The stage set changed slightly and it was Native Window plus Steve Walsh, better known as Kansas. They opened with "Howling at the Moon" excerpted from "Magnum Opus," which appears on the Leftoverture album mixed, then went into "Belexes" from the first album.

From there, it was on to a chunky "Point of Know Return" (transposed down a key or so I think). Walsh stepped out from behind his keys to offer up some stronger-than-I suspected vocals as Ragsdale stood at center stage, wailing away on the violin.

Bouncing around a bit, there was the requisite but ever-so-fine "Dust In The Wind" with both Greer and Williams on acoustics. Williams has the old acoustic- on-a stand-thing so he can switch over to electric during a song.

There was a real surprise when Greer announced a triple shot of tunes from the Masque album. Not only were these gems masterfully played; the fact that this band is even playing more obscure song and messing with their set lists like this makes one realize these guys still care about delivering something fresh and unique.

Just as we were recovering from that special assault on our senses, the band blasted through a batch of winners — "Miracles Out of Nowhere," "Portrait (He Knew)," "Hold On," "Icarus-Borne On Wings Of Steel" and "Song For America."

"Icarus" was truly a great one that set our innards rumbling. "Song for America," the regular set's closer, could be Kansas' rallying cry even more than "Carry On," which they saved for the second of two encores. The one first one, "Fire With Fire," was a real surprise.

Ehart was as powerful and accurate as ever; Billy Greer has got pipes that mix well as well as counter with Walsh's (and let’s not forget those complicated Dave Hope bass parts he's playing)

Ragsdale's absolute busy-ness is mind-blowing — slinging an electric guitar over his back while doubling Williams’ guitar parts. Williams himself is occasionally sublime, often rockin', but always precise.

Walsh? I have to say the diminutive lead vocalist/keyboardist and focal point truly blew me away. Manning his keys on a platform level with Ehart, stepping out front on occasion, his powerful yet sedate approach, subtle keyboard parts and slightly restrained but distinctive vocals make Kansas just as compelling as ever.

As it says on their first album: "Kansas is a band." The five guys of Kansas proved that they are indeed a band, and a hell of a one at that!

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