Photo via Emily Butler Photography
In the midst of an anniversary tour that celebrates the band’s most successful album, Kansas continues to ride the tour bus and roll out new music with an anticipated 16th studio release next year.
But, before that new music comes out, Kansas will play at the Palace Theatre on Saturday, Oct. 26, at 8 p.m. The pioneering prog rock band will play a dual set that includes an acoustic performance of some of the band’s most popular hits.
Billy Greer, the band’s bass player, can remember having a tee-shirt depicting a clipper ship hanging over a cascading fall of water, disappearing into oblivion. The cover of Kansas’ 1977 album “Point of Know Return” is an iconic piece of art music fans recognize. It is a point of reference to the progressive rock band. You know of the band because of this album, and if you don’t know of them, this is the album you need to hear.
It was the band’s follow-up to “Leftoverture,” which produced “Carry on Wayward Son,” a title that topped at No. 11 on the Billboard Top 100. Rolling Stone magazine wasn’t a fan of the shorter length to its songs, but expressed how “strong and purposeful” the band played as a whole. Despite the mixed review, “Point of Know Return” became the band’s greatest selling studio album. The album peaked at No. 4 on Billboard’s Album charts, containing the smash hit and million-selling single “Dust in the Wind,” along with fan favorites such as “Portrait (He Knew),” “Closet Chronicles” and “Paradox.” It reached sextuple-platinum status with more than six million copies sold and had three Billboard Hot 100 singles.
The commercial success of the album is also where many point to when the band started to waiver and split apart. Steve Walsh, the band’s lead singer, left in 1981 to pursue a solo career. He ultimately paired up with Greer as they formed the band Streets. However, when Walsh decided to return to Kansas, Greer joined him.
“I was returning back to Atlanta with my tail between my legs,” Greer said he recalled. He was with another band that failed to land a record deal, and he said he was about to go back home questioning whether or not he’d continue to play when he received the phone call. “I was living in this small, dusty town with an airport just big enough to land a twin-engine.”
Greer was picked up in a Learjet, and his career with Kansas took off. It was 1985.
Greer joined as Walsh attempted to revitalize Kansas. The band disbanded nearly two years before after the release of “Drastic Measures.” Dixie Dregs guitarist Steve Morse joined the band and helped infuse a new sound exhibited in “Power.” It produced a couple of hits, including “All I Wanted,” and the title track. But, that was the last time the band cracked the Billboard Top 100.
The band produced an ambitious concept album with its 1988 release “In the Spirit of Things.” But, soon afterwards, the climate changed in popular music. It marked the beginning of “some dark times” for the band, as it struggled to keep together while progressive rock fell out of favor to alternative and grunge.
“Nirvana changed everything,” said Greer.
Kansas released three more studio albums before Walsh decided to retire in 2014. When Ronnie Platt took over as frontman, the band started to produce new music and released “The Prelude Implicit,” the band’s 15th studio album. It was also the band’s first release under Inside Out Music, a German record label keen on progressive rock.
Though Greer wasn’t with Kansas when the band produced “Point of Know Return,” he said the music is still very much a part of him.
“I’ve played these songs for 35 years,” he said. “They are a part of my musical DNA.”
“The sentiments for this anniversary tour for ‘Point of Know Return’ are kind of similar to the release of the album itself,” said Phil Ehart. Ehart is Kansas’ drummer and its original member. “Just like when we first released the album, as a band, we knew we had to deliver a tour just as good, or better, than what we did for ‘Leftoverture.’ So, that’s what we’ve tried to do. Fan response has been overwhelmingly positive and we are excited to continue it and take this show to more people.”
Throughout the tour, live shows not only culminate with the album Point of Know Return performed in its entirety, but Kansas also performs classic hits, deep cuts, and fan favorites. In some cases the band even puts a new spin on a Kansas classic. The Kansas musical event has songs for every type of fan.
“This tour really is so much fun,” said David Ragsdale, the band’s guitarist and violinist. “As ingrained as this album is in popular culture with ‘Dust in the Wind,’ the song ‘Point of Know Return,’ and the album artwork, it’s not uncommon for people to overlook the incredible depth of the album. This entire set keeps the band on our toes and is hopefully as fun for the audience as it is for us.”
Kansas is currently comprised of Ehart, Ragsdale, Greer, vocalist and keyboardist Ronnie Platt, keyboardist Tom Brislin, guitarist Zak Rizvi and original guitarist Richard Williams.
Greer said the band just finished recording a new album, which the band plans to release sometime in 2020.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.