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HPPR Arts, Culture & History

Kansas Is STILL A Band: Kansas, Live in Amarillo

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The rock band Kansas started in Topeka in 1970, with early concert posters famously proclaiming “Kansas is a Band!” Saturday night at the Amarillo Civic Center, the group powered through its artsy, progressive-rock-themed back catalog, as well as a few more recent numbers, to the delight of concert-goers. Half the show was a track-by-track performance of the classic, 1977 quadruple-platinum album Point of Know Return, including the mega-hit “Dust in the Wind” and top-40 title track, as well as deeper cuts like “Closet Chronicles,” “Lightning’s Hand” and “Portrait (He Knew)."

Kansas was originally scheduled to play a show in Amarillo in September 2017, but cancelled due to an illness in the band. When the group finally made it back to the High Plains, they did not disappoint. After a brief acoustic set, featuring the 1980 hit “Hold On,” drummer and founder Phil Ehart joined the group for the rest of the show. Behind his double-bass drum kit, Ehart skillfully anchored the band’s shifting and complex time signatures.

Kansas played over two hours. A light show and backdrops based on classic album covers illuminated the music. One highlight was nine-minute “Song for America,” originally released as an homage to the U.S. Bicentennial. As usual, the band encored with its signature 1976 radio hit, “Carry on Wayward Son.”

Besides Ehart, Kansas’s other original member is guitarist Rich Williams, whose throaty, powerful electric leads and deft acoustic fingerpicking sound just as powerful as they did decades ago. Like any other classic rock band nowadays, the lineup isn’t quite what it used to be. Principal songwriter Kerry Livgren left in the 1980s, after becoming a born-again Christian, and singer-keyboardist Steve Walsh retired in 2014. Current members, including David Ragsdale (now in his second stint replacing Robby Steinhart on violin) and Billy Greer (holding down bass guitar since 1985), do an excellent job of maintaining the spirit and sound of the original lineup. More recent additions Tom Brislin and Zak Rizvi fill out the classic tunes with their virtuoso playing on keyboards and guitar, respectively. Lead vocalist Ronnie Platt sounds just enough like Walsh to make one wonder if it’s 1977 all over again.

The audience—some of whom had clearly seen the band in its earlier forms—stayed to the end. Amarillo cheered both the big hits as well as the more obscure album tracks. After nearly a half-century of rocking, Kansas is still a band. And a remarkably good one, at that.