Heroes of FM radio’s glory days go casino

I was too young to experience the enormity of stadium shows in the ’70s. It was during this time that the lads of Kansas experienced monstrous exposure with two classic-rock radio staples, “Dust in the Wind” and “Carry On Wayward Son.” However, despite its classic-rock reputation, Kansas was not a classic-rock act, but rather a progressive-leaning ensemble with a penchant for the lengthy opus and a multitude of stringed instruments, particularly the violin. Anyone attending the band’s concerts would soon realize the breadth of musical knowledge found within.

Although Kansas was signed to Kirshner, promoter/mogul Don Kirshner’s custom label through Epic, its first couple of albums went relatively unnoticed. It wasn’t until such albums as Leftoverture and the multi-platinum Point of Know Return that the band hit its stride. From clubs to stadiums, arenas to ballrooms, Kansas has consistently delivered quality music and stellar musicianship above everything else.

A recent Saturday show at Caesar’s Tahoe featured all original members sans original bassist, Dave Hope—replaced by the able Billy Greer—and the welcome return of original guitarist/songwriter Kerry Livgren. From the night’s opener, “Belexes,” an obscure track from the band’s self-titled 1974 debut, to the closing etude of “The Pinnacle” from Masque, the night’s set list couldn’t have been any more spectacular. Singer Steve Walsh held fast at the keyboard and remained reserved while violinist/singer Robby Steinhardt commandeered the showroom stage with reckless aplomb. Phil Ehart played tracks like “The Wall” with considerable taste and reverence for the original versions, while bassist Greer provided a solid foundation and spot-on background vocals.

The band’s humble beginnings mirrored that of an early Peter Gabriel-fronted Genesis or Tales of Topographic Oceans-era Yes, where 10-minute-plus songs were commonplace. Like Yes, this show could’ve been Kansas’ version of The Masterworks tour, where Yes played only its most daring, over-the-top, extended songs.

The show, one of a handful of U.S. dates listed on the band’s Web site, was an anomaly in its tour schedule. Were it not for a billboard sign and weekend billing, Kansas might have been hard-pressed to fill the 1,500-capacity showroom. As it stood, the band played to a full house of boomer-aged fans hell bent on hearing the night’s closers, the hits. Perhaps the majority of the crowd didn’t appreciate the subtleties of the “Icarus” suite as much as I did. After all, progressive music isn’t setting the retail world on fire these days. Perhaps just seeing some living legends produce their vintage, unabridged versions didn’t make the grade. Nevertheless, I had a splendid evening and was able to experience, for a brief moment, a slice of their past.