Wheatheads rejoice! Another Kansas concert DVD is upon us. There's Know Place Like Home marks the 35th Anniversary of the band Kansas and it marvelously covers every period of their long and storied career.
Throughout the 1970's, Kansas were the most preeminent American, symphonic-progressive-rock band in the world, thanks to the massive success of their two breakout albums, 1976's Leftoverture, and 1977's Point Of Know Return, which both reached multi-platinum status.
Leftoverture immediately became one of my favorite albums when I first picked it up back in 1976, and it remains one of my all-time favorites to this day. The band wisely featured five of the eight songs from this masterpiece, opening the show with a powerful "Howling At The Moon," and later sending the crowd home satisfied with THE classic-rock anthem of all time, "Carry On Wayward Son." Don't believe me? Look it up in the dictionary.
The current version of Kansas still features three of its original members, Steve Walsh (vocals/keyboards), Rich Williams (guitar), and Phil Ehart (drums). Joining them are bassist/vocalist Billy Greer, who has been with the band since 1985, and violinist/guitarist David Ragsdale, who was in the band from 1991-1997, and recently returned to the fold after Robby Steinhardt split again in 2006.
With the departure of Steinhardt, Greer has effectively taken over as frontman for the band, handling all of the audience interaction. He also does a superb job with all of Steinhardt's lead vocal parts. Steve Walsh may still be the primary lead vocalist, but he is definitely no frontman, choosing instead to remain silent and stoic behind his racks of keyboards at the back of the stage. These two excellent vocalists, along with Ragsdale, easily reproduce all of Kansas' great harmony vocals of old. Walsh's vocals had begun to sound a little strained over the past couple of decades, but this is the best he has sounded in a long while.
There's Know Place Like Home was recorded on February 7th, 2009 at the White Concert Hall, on the Washburn University Campus, in their hometown of Topeka, Kansas. The band was augmented by the local, 50-member, Washburn University Symphony Orchestra, and if you have been put off by some of the other rock band-meets-symphony performances of the past, don't hesitate to give this baby a try. Most of Kansas' classic material was already very symphonic in nature to begin with, so this was one of the more blissful symphonic-rock marriages I have yet to encounter.
The 17-song setlist is a good one, featuring songs from eleven different studio albums, starting with their 1974, self-titled debut, and working up to their latest studio release, 2000's Somewhere To Elsewhere. The only albums not represented were Vinyl Confessions and Freaks Of Nature. After the stirring "Howling At The Moon" opener, the boys take you all the way back to the beginning with smoking prog-rocker, "Belexes." If you only know Kansas from their radio-friendly AOR hits like "Play The Game," and "Dust In The Wind," then you really need to check out some of this killer early stuff.
The Washburn Symphony Orchestra sounded magnificent this night and they were mixed perfectly throughout the entire DVD. They never dominated the band's playing, as with other DVDs of the kind, but they still made the performances sound huge. "Knowhere" was this more apparent than during one of my favorite Kansas epics, "Song For America," where the powerful orchestration kept me in goosebumps throughout the entire piece.
Kansas not only revisited some of there lesser known albums and songs for this show, but they also invited a couple of famous ex-members to join them onstage. First up was guitar-wizard Steve Morse, who was in Kansas between about 1985 and 1989, and played on the albums Power and In The Spirit Of Things. Watching his magic fingers dance around the fretboard during the instrumental "Musicatto" was nearly worth the price of admission alone, and it caused an enthusiastic standing ovation from the crowd. One of many this night.
The highlight of the show for me was seeing Kerry Livgren up on stage with the band again. Livgren was the chief songwriter and the soul of Kansas until he quit the band in 1983, soon after becoming a born-again Christian. In 2000, Livgren reunited with Kansas to write and record the outstanding album Somewhere To Elsewhere, but he declined to tour with the band again. I was hoping to hear a lot more from that very underrated album, but all you get is the standout track "Icarus II," which they perform right before what is perhaps my favorite Kansas song, "Icarus – Borne On Wings Of Steel."
It was rather strange how they incorporated Livgren into the performance though. He first shows up to play on "Hold On," about half way into the set, and is not shown again until "The Wall," about five songs later, where he plays the music hall's giant pipe organ, and not again until he comes back out for the "Dust In The Wind," "Carry On Wayward Son" show closing finale. Having Livgren handle the lead guitar duties on "Wayward Son" really made that one extra special. Nothing against Rich Williams, but his lead guitar work has always left me kind of dry.
Kansas could really use some work on their stage show, as the lighting is too generic and repetitive to accompany a setlist that creates so many unique moods. The same color patterns and swirling spotlights were used throughout the entire show, and it was boring to watch. They should check out a recent Rush concert DVD.
The production quality of the DVD was mixed. The DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround tracks both sound amazing, and a particularly exceptional job was done mixing the band and orchestra. I can imagine how challenging this must be. The picture quality and camera work could have been better. Although most of the concert looked pretty good, there were still too many blurry, grainy, and dark shots spread about. The cameras were constantly zooming in and out, and panning the stage and crowd. You rarely got any good steady shots, and the constant camera motion got dizzying after a while.
The only bonus feature was a sound check jam of "Down The Road," which also included Morse and Livgren. This was a really cool performance. Too bad it wasn't incorporated into the set as an encore with everyone involved.
There's Know Place Like Home is easily the best concert video the band has put out. The music is timeless, the musicianship extraordinary, the crowd's enthusiasm was infectious, and the orchestration was the icing on the cake. This one is not to be missed, Kansas fans.
Side note: On September 1st, the 59 year old Kerry Livgren suffered a massive stroke and had to undergo surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain. Let's wish him a quick and complete recovery.
01. Howling at the Moon
04. Song for America
05. On The Other Side
08. Nobody's Home
09. Hold On
10. Cheyenne Anthem
11. Icarus II
12. Icarus – Borne On Wings Of Steel
13. Miracles Out of Nowhere
14. The Wall
15. Fight Fire With Fire
16. Dust in the Wind
17. Carry On Wayward Son
Down The Road (Soundcheck jam)
Performance – 9/10
Production – 8/10