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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Kansas

Two For The Show

Review by

Kansas rode their crest of popularity in the late seventies with this two-album set that displays their fine skills. Released after "Point of Know Return," this album was recorded during several concert performances at various venues in the U.S. in 1977 and 1978. For the uninitiated, like myself, this album is a good document of the band's early work as well as showing the band's top-notch instrumentation.

The personnel at the time was: Steve Walsh, keyboards and vocals; Kerry Livgren, keyboards and guitar; Phil Ehart, drums and vocals; Rich Williams, guitar; Dave Hope, bass; and Robbie Steinhardt, violin and vocals.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Song For America
The band chose an energetic, complicated undertaking to open the album. There is a nice intro section, then the verses that paint a rather dismal view of the ecology. Like Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A.", this song sets a tone that belies the song title.
Point of Know Return
This is a straight-on rendition of the hit song, with its catchy-as-all-hell-ascending riff.
Paradox
The band breaks into boogie mode on this cut, showing they could simply rock out when they wanted to. Kansas still find a few places for some intricate playing at the intro and between verses.
Icarus - Borne on Wings of Steel
This rocker shows some good counterpoint in the middle section as well as some straight-on 4/4. The band steps up the tempo a bit at the end. This tune is a very good mix of progressive and simple rock.
Portrait (He Knew)
Not too many progressive bands might go for a 12/8 feel, but Kansas never veered too much from more common rock tempos. This tune breaks into a hard-driving boogie section at the end and does a nice segue right into "Carry On…"
Carry On Wayward Son
The classic, played just like you've heard it on radio. Unfortunately, radio overkill may have dampened what a nice song this really is.
Journey from Mariabronn
A cut from the first album, there is some good jazz-rock fusion here, highlighted by solos from Walsh on synthesizer, Livgren, and Steinhardt.
Dust in the Wind
Or, as every DJ in Cincinnati in the 1970s called it, "Dusssst…in the…Winnnnnd." Like "Stairway to Heaven," forget the fact that it has been overplayed to death and enjoy the top-notch guitar work. Steinhardt tacks on a nice violin solo as a coda. A solo guitar piece follows, exploring a number of different moods a la Steve Howe.
Lonely Wind
A nice piano solo from Steve Walsh leads this number, which is another originally from the first album. This, like the guitar solo that precedes it, shows that this band had some real talent in it. The solo has a slight resemblance in feeling to Keith Emerson's "Fugue." The number is one of the simpler songs in the band's repertoire.
Mysteries and Mayhem
Like many of Kansas' songs, the lyrics to this piece have biblical overtones to them, although the band always steered clear of beating the listener over the head with its Christian leanings. The composition is in overdrive throughout, showing again how Kansas could play all-out rock with the best of them.
Excerpt from Lamplight Symphony
A 2:39 snippet from this "Song for America" closing number, this serves as an instrumental bridge between "Mysteries and Mayhem" and the following song. There is some nice combo work as the violin and synthesizer double on the melody towards the end of this piece.
The Wall
On this anthem-like number, the melody takes a few unexpected turns, but the song never becomes discordant. A guitar solo highlights a stately instrumental break in the middle. This is another of Kerry Livgren's songs that uses the Bible for inspiration but in an oblique way. Walsh gives it his all on the last verse and imparts to the song that little bit of energy to keep it from flagging.
Magnum Opus
Well, it is. The band stretches here a bit from the original version (from "Leftoverture"). A spacey intro, led by Steinhardt's bends and dives on the violin, leads to a mid-tempo rock section. Walsh takes the vocals for a bit (and finishes by literally howling at the moon). After that, the band goes into a high-powered section, that is very complicated and tricky. The piece then winds down a bit, Steinhardt taking the lead for a time. The tempo builds before going into breakneck mode during a guitar solo. The track finishes with a real flourish. At 11:11 the song lasts about 2 1/2 minutes longer than the studio version, but there is no dead time - the band is in full gear throughout.
 
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