KANSAS Live In Arizona

by Kevin Wierzbicki

It would have been appropriate if the Phoenix area had of been having one of its infamous dust storms when "Dust in the Wind" hit makers KANSAS performed Sept. 19 in the Ikeda Theater at the Mesa Arts Center in suburban Mesa. But the clear late summer evening left it to the long running prog rock band to bring the weather, which they specifically did with cuts like "Cold Grey Morning," "Summer" and "Lightning's Hand."

KANSAS is currently on their Point of Know Return tour which celebrates the recent 40th anniversary of the release of the album of the same name. Point of Know Return reached the #4 spot on the Billboard album charts and is the band's highest-charting album ever, and for this show the guys played the album in its entirety and in its original running order. But first a selection of hits and favorites from other albums was performed, including a four song acoustic set that opened the show.

Perched on stools set up in a line at the front of the stage, KANSAS (minus their drummer) began the concert with "People of the South Wind," a Top 40 hit from the late 1970s that is the band's signature song of sorts, as the word "kansas" in the native American language of the Kaw or Kansa tribe is said to translate to "people of the wind" or "people of the south wind." The acoustic set was not completely acoustic; bassist Billy Greer was plugged in as was keys man Tom Brislin. Neither were the songs "stripped down" much; KANSAS achieved a very-full and rocking sound playing mostly without electricity on "Hold On," complete with the evening's first violin solo from David Ragsdale, and "Refugee," a cut from the band's latest effort, The Prelude Implicit. A surprise awaited for "Lonely Wind," the final song in the acoustic set, as singer Ronnie Platt got up from his stool and strolled to the center of the stage. With the entire stage going dark except for a single spotlight on Platt, drummer (and original KANSAS member) Phil Ehart snuck on stage and added thundering drums to the end of the song, beginning just as the lights came back on. The effect was stunning and it would signal a set of full-blown electric prog rock from that point on.

At the beginning of the show the band had promised cuts from "10 albums or so" and they hopped to various points in their repertoire during a mid-show seven-song set, including the aforementioned "Cold Grey Morning" where original guitarist Richard Williams switched between electric and acoustic guitars during the song. Also performed in this portion of the show were "Miracles Out of Nowhere" from Leftoverture, the title cut from the Song for America album, and other favorites like "Icarus - Borne on the Wings of Steel," the funky "Two Cents Worth," "The Wall" and "Summer."

After the generous set of hits and favorites the band turned their attention to performing the Point of Know Return album, which began with the perfect-for-a-singalong title track. Fans know this entire album very well, and they showed it with their reactions to the kind of ominous "Portrait (He Knew)," "Sparks of the Tempest" complete with extra sparks courtesy of the band's drum tech on additional percussion, and the mournful "Nobody's Home" where a park bench, a small teacher's desk and a tombstone were brought on stage as props to enhance the song. Of course the playing of "Dust in the Wind" had a few concert-goers choked up, perhaps as they thought of friends and loved ones who have passed.

For an encore KANSAS went once again to the Leftoverture album and its big hit "Carry on Wayward Son." With the band displaying consummate musicianship throughout the show, clearly they're able to carry on for quite some time yet should they choose.

Other exciting shows coming to the Mesa Arts Center include:

Oct. 4 - Roy Orbison and Buddy Holly - The Rock 'n' Roll Dream Tour
You read that right; these two seminal rock 'n' roll figures are indeed set to perform at Mesa Arts Center, as holograms! The legendary singers will be backed by a live band and back-up singers as they perform their most famous hits.

Oct. 11 - Dennis DeYoung of Styx
DeYoung was a founding member and original lead vocalist of Styx, and on this tour he and his band will be performing the The Grand Illusion album in its entirety plus a bunch of hits like "Mr. Roboto," "Babe," "Too Much Time on My Hands" and "Come Sail Away."

Oct. 12 - Tower of Power
Now celebrating a career that has spanned five decades, Tower of Power will dazzle with their distinct take on soul, funk, rock and pop. They'll likely answer the question "What is Hip?" and also play plenty of other cuts from their '70s heyday.

Oct. 13 - Experience Hendrix
This great tribute to the music of Jimi Hendrix will feature a stellar line-up of guitarists including Joe Satriani, Dweezil Zappa, Eric Johnson, Ana Popovic, Taj Mahal and Jonny Lang along with other luminaries like Billy Cox, the bassist from Band of Gypsies and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

For a complete list of shows coming to the Mesa Arts Center go here.

KANSAS Live In Arizona

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