Kansas in Concert

By Allen Howie

Let's face it. Just about everybody who jammed into Phoenix Hill for the first of two Kansas shows on the last night of June was there for one thing above all else: to experience, live and in person, that rush you get from the a capella lead-in to "Carry On Wayward Son."

Knowing this, the band wisely saved that tune for the end of the show. In the meantime, they gave the packed house an hour of vintage Kansas, updated only slightly for the nineties. A couple of instrumental numbers led into the first rousing crowd-pleaser of the evening, a note-for-note rendition of "Point of Know Return." The drums thundered, the guitars buzzed, the harmonies soared and the crowd swooned in a haze of late-seventies euphoria. That song characterized much of what was to come, a perfect combination of instrumental precision and rock and roll bluster.

Another standout was the near-orchestral sweep of "The Wall," with a soulful lead vocal and lots of fluid, melodic lead guitar of the kind that dominated FM rock in the seventies. The band followed it with "Dust in the Wind," and to their credit, Kansas took this can't-miss audience favorite past mere nostalgia, turning in a graceful performance that got all the details right and still retained the emotion of the original.

Other highlights of the evening included a stunning vocal performance in "On the Other Side," which managed to retain the anthemic feel of the studio version without coming across as overblown, and a flawless "Sasquatch" that by turns shimmered and shook.

As the set drew near its close, the band stepped into "Carry On Wayward Son." Everything you'd want was there — that dead-on vocal attack, the familiar guitar riff — and for its part, the crowd reacted like a junkie getting a fix. Kansas has always had a hidden sense of humor, and they let it show here as they took the song into an over-the-top, Wayne's World climax (I could have sworn that was Dana Carvey flailing rapturously away behind the drum kit).

The band capped their performance with a sizzling speed-blues of an encore, working the crowd (and themselves) into a lather one more time before the floor was cleared for the second show. The guy standing next to me noticed I was writing, grinned and offered his own three-word review: "Write this down," he shouted hoarsely, "It - was - great!" I couldn't have said it better.