The band Kansas rocketed into fame and prosperity from its hometown of Topeka 40 years ago, when its “Leftoverture” album barnstormed a music world that was primed for the group’s Midwestern version of progressive/art rock.
Forty years later, Kansas is barely the band it used to be. Its only founding members are drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Rich Williams. In 2014, Ronnie Platt, a former latter-day singer for Shooting Star, took over lead vocals from Steve Walsh, duties Platt shares with longtime bassist Billy Greer.
Despite all the personnel substitutions, more than 1,600 fans attended the group’s 40th anniversary tribute to “Leftoverture” on Saturday night in the Muriel Kauffman Theatre inside the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, where for two and a half hours, the latest version of Kansas gave some of its most ardent supporters a heavy dose of its past and a deep-dish slice of its future.
Platt is a suitable substitute for Walsh, though he sounds closer to Joey Tempest of Europe than he does to his predecessor. He is an animated and enthusiastic frontman, prone to exhibiting clichéd rock-star poses and gestures; his strength is his agile voice, which had little trouble hitting the highest of notes the role requires.
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The band opened with a career-spanning set of songs that included tracks from its latest release and went back to the first Kansas album. The first five songs were part of an acoustic set: “The Coming Dawn (Thanatopsis),” from the “Somewhere to Elsewhere” album, released in 2000; “Hold On,” from 1980’s “Audio-Visions”; “Chasing Shadows” from 1982’s “Vinyl Confessions”; “Reason to Be” from “Monolith,” released in 1979; and then a new one, “Refugee,” a song about the sex-slave trade from “The Prelude Implicit,” released in September.
As “Refugee” slowed to a close, the band left the stage, one by one, then returned for the full electric set, which drew more songs from “Prelude” and went back to “Journey from Mariabronn,” from the inaugural “Kansas” album, released in 1974. It also included the folk ballad “Dust In the Wind,” one of its biggest hits, and “Section 60,” a “Prelude” song that was also a tribute to men and women in the armed forces.
By then, the show had established its thrust: Instrumental spotlights would be distributed liberally and equally, though violinist David Ragsdale stood out among a crew that was as polished and finessed as it was furious as it navigated so many crooked time signatures, abrupt changes in tempo and shifting dynamics.
Ragsdale also strapped on an electric guitar for several songs, contributing a lead here and there, like during “What’s On My Mind,” during the “Leftoverture” set.
That was the highlight of the show, starting with “Carry On Wayward Son,” which sounded as urgent as it did in 1976, and ending with “Magnum Opus,” the epitome of jammy 1970s prog rock if ever there was one. In between, Kansas re-created the sounds of its best-known and best-selling album, which has sold more than 5 million copies.
Much of the show featured outbursts of instrumentals, from Williams, who sang lead on a few songs, including “Miracles Out of Nowhere”; from David Manion, who bathed most tracks in riffs and fills on the keyboards; and from guitarist Zak Rizvi, who occasionally swapped leads with Williams. They were all girded by the propulsive rhythms of Ehart, who was afforded few respites all night.
The audience was familiar with nearly every note of every song, rewarding the band with shouts of gratitude and encouragement and loud, sustained applause and cheers, including numerous standing ovations.
After “Magnum Opus,” the band took its bows and said good night, but, returned for one more, “Portrait (He Knew),” a track from its other blockbuster album, “Point of Know Return.” That album turns 40 next year, and given the robust response the “Leftoverture” celebration received, another anniversary party may be in order.
Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain
The Coming Dawn (Thanatopsis); Hold On; Chasing Shadows; Reason to Be; Refugee; Icarus II; Icarus: Borne on Wings of Steel; Journey From Mariabronn; Lamplight Symphony; Dust in the Wind; With This Heart; Rhythm in the Spirit; The Unsung Heroes; The Voyage of Eight Eighteen; Section 60; Carry On Wayward Son; The Wall; What’s On My Mind; Miracles Out of Nowhere; Opus Insert; Questions of My Childhood; Cheyenne Anthem; Magnum Opus. Encore: Portrait (He Knew).