Kansas at the Fox Theater live review

Kansas revisit the 70s and early 80s in this US show.

A crowd watching a prog gig
(Image: © Katja Ogrin)

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Kansas aren’t a spectacle. Not necessary, really. Their canon of songs and muscular playing, plus an unassuming likeability, is plenty enough to be rewarded with rapt attention and enthusiastic applause.

The popularity of mid-70s success has sustained the Kansas brand for more than 40 years. Even tonight, the show never ventures past 1983’s Drastic Measures. Point Of Know Return sets that precedent straight away, and half of the 16-song list is anchored by that album and Leftoverture, as expected.

But deeper tracks brought to life are the real takeaway of the show. Kansas hide their prog in plain sight as classic rock. The grandeur of Miracles Out Of Nowhere and Icarus abandon pretentiousness in favour of a workman’s approach to playing, making them unfold with the same architecture as a good story. Even intricate dynamics have been crafted with purpose, never veering into overextended tediousness, best shown when the band let loose with Belexes.

This show is one of the few remaining gigs before Zak Rizvi joins the band as a full fledged second guitarist. But here, David Ragsdale continues to ably back up Rich Williams when not maneuvering a violin that sounds regal, melancholy, and occasionally rural, particularly the fiddling that punctuates the foot-stomping, clap-along boogie as the room lifts off during Down The Road.

Phil Ehart is sidelined, at home with kidney stones, as bassist Billy Greer explains between songs. Longtime drum tech Eric Holmquist is behind the kit instead, giving the floor toms a noticeably hard pounding in place of his boss. That leaves Williams, tethered to a chair to nurse a broken foot, as the lone founding member onstage. No matter, the musicianship in effect fully authenticates the band.

Ronnie Platt, now with the band two years, is a perfect vocal fit. His performance is playful, but never uncomfortably over the top. Again, that would be completely unnecessary. His range is robust and clear, the high notes soaring over the instrumentation in full flight. Platt, Greer and Ragsdale singing together is another highlight, resounding with the fullness of a choir.

Songs and musicianship make tonight memorable; lesser known material captivates just as much as familiar hits turning this performance into something special. So is the ability to pull together disparate musical styles into a cohesive sound. Listening here, the influence of Kansas becomes apparent. If it had been packaged in hairspray and spandex, encore Fight Fire With Fire could have been a massive MTV hit for any other band. It’s not hard, either, to imagine Steve Harris studying a bit of their blueprint when plotting out Iron Maiden.