It was a Kansas state of mind on Saturday at the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City.
Kansas sailed through an adventurous set that not only featured the old and new, but delivered an invigorating presentation in full of the band's 1977 classic album, "Point of Know Return," which turns 42 years old in three weeks. The band saved the performance of that album -- it's highest-charting U.S. record, reaching No. 4 on the Billboard charts -- until the latter part of the show.
Saturday's concert had four distinct set swings, as the band opened with a four-song, mood-setting acoustic presentation before transitioning into a main electric segment, which focused on a cornucopia of deep cuts and well-known album favorites. Those sets paved the way for the band to slide into its "Point of Know Return" showcase before returning for a well-earned, albeit utterly predictable, encore.
The whole show was a voyage that lasted a healthy two hours and 10 minutes -- a representative amount of time for a legacy band like Kansas that has a deep catalog of music. Kansas hasn't always played this length of a show through the years, and while a big part of the current effort, I'm sure, is due to the full-album treatment, it is still commendable that the group is extending its concerts now, when a lot of other bands are trending toward shorter performances.
The show began casually with acoustic treatments of two of the band's minor hits, "People of the South Wind" and "Hold On." Nearly all of the members were sitting on stools along the front of the stage, with Tom Brislin set up behind keyboards. The acoustic treatment allowed these versions to breathe a bit, and David Ragsdale's violin parts were especially poignant.
The acoustic set moved on to a taste of the new and old. "Refugee," a stellar number from the band's 2016 album "The Prelude Implicit," was a nice touch as was "Lonely Wind," a song from Kansas' 1974 eponymously titled debut album.
One key element that should have been evident to most fans during the acoustic set was the quality of vocals -- not only by the two main singers, Ronnie Platt (keyboards) and Billy Greer (bass) -- but also with the added backgrounds of Ragsdale and Brislin. This proved especially important in Kansas' case, since the two main vocalists through the band's classic albums (Steve Walsh and Robby Steinhardt) are no longer in the group. But the songs felt and sounded right, no small task when covering for two lead singers.
During the last part of "Lonely Wind," Platt stood up from his stool and moved to the very front of the stage, as three spotlights shone down on him, with another solely on Ragsdale, leaving the rest of the members in the dark. This seemed odd in the moment, however, the move made perfect sense shortly thereafter as it allowed Phil Ehart, who had not been onstage to that point, to slip behind his drum kit undetected. He joined the proceedings with a powerful pounding, immediately elevating the song's impact in the final chorus as the full stage lights imploded with a burst of illumination. It was a fitting entry for Ehart, an original member and co-founder of the band.
There was a bit of a darkened break as the stools and such were removed as things transitioned to the full electric set. In fact, there were quite a few times where there were periods of darkness onstage between songs. Things were quiet enough that the whole audience could hear the random shouts of "I love you!" and other niceties. (There's always that one person, who thinks they have the perfect thing to yell out in those occasions, am I right? Think George Costanza yelling out, "That's gotta hurt!" in a crowded movie theater. Thankfully, no one yelled, "Free Bird"!)
Highlights in this next stretch included "Cold Grey Morning," "The Wall," "Song For America" and "Icarus -- Borne on Wings of Steel," which included some stunning light effects and earned the biggest spontaneous applause to that point of the evening.
After "Miracles Out of Nowhere," the band marked the impending "Point of Know Return" suite by simply changing the banner behind the stage to the album cover. In fact, there was hardly any talking between the band and audience -- other than a brief introduction to "Dust in the Wind" -- during this portion of the show, and honestly, I find that type of approach works well during full-album presentations. Fans typically want to experience the albums as they listened to them in their bedrooms or cars all these years, moving succinctly from song to song, without mucking up the proceedings with unnecessary verbiage.
The whole "Point of Know Return" segment was a definite high point in the concert as the prog-rock standards received added punch in the live setting. Sure, the hits were strong, but I enjoyed hearing many of the album's tunes which have been played only sparingly over the past four decades. "Sparks of the Tempest" was especially powerful, and I was reminded by the nagging thought that this song could also have been a hit, if only it had been released as a single. Certainly it's a song that should become a more regular part of Kansas' live sets. "Closet Chronicles" and "Nobody's Home" were also highlights, as was the great rendition of "Portrait (He Knew)."
As for the musicians, major props also go to original member and lead guitarist Rich Williams. He's always played an understated role on stage from a visual standpoint. He doesn't play up to the crowd at all, but the man's fingers are flying all over the fretboard in a variety of intricate, time-changing complexities. Second guitarist Zak Rizvi pairs perfectly with Williams, as the two work to cover as many of the band's guitar parts as four hands possibly can.
The evening came to a pulse-quickening conclusion with the encore of "Carry On Wayward Son," one of the all-time great rock radio staples. The song, which provided the band its first major exposure back in 1976, is one of those one just can't help singing along to, and that was certainly evident in the Eccles Center as the near-capacity crowd enthusiastically joined in.
The current incarnation of Kansas puts on a very solid show, and I'm a fan of the full-album concert treatment. Kansas has now featured its two most successful albums, "Leftoverture" and "Point of Know Return," in this format in recent years. Not sure that there's a third album that could legitimately follow those, except for the extreme diehards -- but maybe there's a show focusing on both those records together? Hmmmm ...