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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Kansas

Two For the Show 30th Anniversary Edition

Review by Gary Hill

Kansas is a band that hasn’t always gotten the respect they deserve in the progressive rock community. Sure, part of that fact is due to their pop rock period in the mid portion of their career. Part of it, though, I think is that a lot of progressive rock fans seem unwilling to embrace prog that has a lot of good solid hard rock or even metal textures in it. For my money one of the key points of progressive rock is its blending of disparate styles. Bringing metal to the table is no different than bringing classical or jazz or world music or folk into the mix. A lot of progressive rock purists see it differently. I think that many of the people who have trouble with Kansas as prog rock are the same people who don’t consider Dream Theater as a progressive rock band. I’d have to say that it’s an appropriate connection because if you listen to the classic period of Kansas (which this represents) you really get a feeling that they more than any other band, were the originators of that sort of hard edged, not afraid to rock, style of progressive rock.

So, with that out of the way, let’s take a look at this disc. For the 30th anniversary of Kansas’ first live album they have remastered and reissued it. But that’s not all. We now get a second CD of material that was recorded on the same tour but (for the most part) never released. The original album of Two For the Show was great – and it sounds even better now. The extra music is sort of like icing on the cake.  If you don’t already own the original release, it’s a no brainer – get this. Even if you have that one, though, this is enough of an upgrade to warrant the trade in.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Song For America
From the opening fanfare you know that you are about to take off on and adventure. In many ways this song represented what was best about Kansas. You had a powerfully triumphant soaring musical texture. Progressive rock changes and instrumentation swirled about and yet we got a fairly mainstream vocal delivery. Balancing between classically tinged elements, soaring progressive rock forays and powerhouse vocal segments, this song is classic and still holds up quite well. I love this live version. The keyboard solos on this are particularly tasty and you have to love any rock song that features violin in a lead capacity.
Point of Know Return
There was a time when you couldn’t listen to FM radio for two long without hearing this song. It seems everyone probably knows this one. This live rendition doesn’t have any major surprises, but it sure has a lot of energy. It’s amazing how well these guys could capture that sound – and this was before the days of midi.
Paradox
A classic hard-edged Kansas sound begins this. There are moments that might make you think of ELP a bit here and there. The song moves through a number of varying changes and progressions at times feeling almost like circus music. This is fast paced and hard rocking number that never sacrifices its prog sensibilities for power. Anyone who has any questions about Kansas’ place as a progressive rock band need look no further. This thing is a killer musical journey that is all over the place – and yet maintains a cohesiveness.
Icarus - Borne On Wings Of Steel
While this track has always been a scorching prog rock journey that combines a stripped down rock and roll sound with sections of pure prog exploration they up the stakes here and take us on some extra forays into musical landscapes. This one is one of the highlights of the whole set.

Portrait (He Knew)
Another Kansas classic, this track probably includes some of the most metallic music the band ever created. Of course, that is just within the portion of this track that’s taken from the studio rendition. And don’t forget, there is plenty of true progressive rock woven into this – that’s a gift that Kansas had in spades – combining those aspects. They close this with a different jam that is pretty much pure 1970’s hard rock. Well, technically it doesn’t close it, but rather segue directly into the next track.
Carry On Wayward Son
This was one of Kansas’ biggest hits and it seems that everyone should know this track. It’s also a classic example of how they were able to take a distinctly progressive rock arrangement and introduce enough mainstream elements to make it a hit. They play it pretty true to form, but this thing always works. It never seems to suffer from overplaying like some other songs that might come to mind.
Journey From Mariabronn
One of the more obscure Kansas tracks, this is wonderful musical journey. It captures just about every type of music you could expect from the band and delivers it all in a package that consistently thrills. I’d have to say that this is another highlight of the set. It encompasses so many wonderful musical excursions in so many varied moods and styles. They give it a great live treatment here. The soaring keyboard solo segment and expansive jam that surrounds it is especially potent. They reinvent this track so many times it’s nearly scary.
Dust In The Wind - Acoustic Guitar Solo
It seems likely that anyone reading this review knows “Dust in the Wind.” So, I won’t go into a lot of detail except to say that for my money the vocal performance really makes this cut. As the title suggests we get an acoustic guitar solo – and a pretty interesting one – after the main attraction.
Lonely Wind - Piano Solo
Actually the piano solo comes before the song, starting right at the conclusion of the guitar solo in the last track. And it’s not just a piano solo as there are some other keyboards at times. In any event, this gives way to a track that is sort of a powered up prog ballad. The vocal performance pretty much steals the show on the piece.
Mysteries And Mayhem
This is a true scorcher and one of another dynamic and dramatic progressive rock jam. It runs directly into the next track.
Excerpt From Lamplight Symphony
Starting in sedate tones, this is a keyboard heavy instrumental journey that takes the band from “Mysteries and Mayhen” directly into “The Wall.”
The Wall
Before Pink Floyd built their Wall Kansas had one of their own. The track has always been a favorite of Kansas fans and for good reason. It’s another that seems to encompass just about everything that the band does. It has harder rocking, but still very progressive movements, evocative vocals (both in balladic and more rocking motifs), violin and a general song structure that moves it through some great changes. The guitar soloing on this one is purely wonderful.
Magnum Opus
The spacey intro that starts this here really reminds me quite a bit of Hawkwind. It’s a little creepy at times. The band really take the title of this track seriously because they extend it to a full eleven plus minutes in length. The original rendition from Leftoverture was in the nine minute range. The track combines a number of musical moods and stylings and everyone gets their chance to shine. I love the bluesy verse section on this – something a bit different for Kansas. You’ve got to love any song that includes band members howling at the moon. Of course, the jam that takes it after that is pure magic. Of course, if you don’t like where they are at any given moment, just hang on. They’ll be miles away in a very short time.
Disc 2
Hopelessly Human
The first of the material that wasn’t included first time around, this one comes up gradually with spacey sorts of ambient textures at first. This gives way to a building prog journey that takes it down the road. They make this dramatic and even a little neo-classical at times. Eventually this takes us to the verse section, which is delivered in typical Kansas fashion – a balladic verse comes first and then it’s built into higher modes as they carry on. They move out into an instrumental section that’s driven by keyboards and violin and then they alter their mode again. After a time we find ourselves driven through a guitar based jam and then keys dance over this backdrop. They definitely take this through about as many changes as you could imagine. Eventually we’re dropped back into the verse and they move it back onward from there. The section that closes this off reminds me of “Carol of the Bells.”
Child Of Innocence
This screamer would be one that might give ammunition to those who say Kansas is not a progressive rock band. One could picture just about any hard rock outfit from the 1970’s doing this track – even if it might be a little different. That’s not to say that this is a bad song, but it’s not the most progressive rock oriented thing Kansas ever did. That said, there is one mellow portion that is pretty well firmly set in the progressive rock field.  The closing instrumental section could be argued to be similarly positioned.
Belexes
With some killer musical textures, this is a powerhouse prog jam. I make out some Eastern tones here and there along this course.
Cheyenne Anthem
A tribute to the Native American, this is a powerful track. It’s very emotional in terms of both vocal delivery and lyrical content. The music is dramatic and quite classical in nature a lot of the time. They create a sound that is trademark Kansas, but yet this is still a wonderfully unique piece. It’s one of the highlights of the set. The instrumental segment mid-track has some definite Emerson Lake and Palmer like moments.
Lonely Street
Here is another straightforward rocker. This one almost reminds me of something from Bad Company or Foreigner (ala 4).
Miracles Out Of Nowhere
Now, this is more like it. We get more progressive rock, coming in keyboard dominated. I’ve always liked this track. It’s pretty standard Kansas. It’s got one of the most memorable vocal lines and had it gotten the proper exposure would have probably been a hit just like “Carry On…” The violin solo on this track is cool. A false ending gives way after a time to a new keyboard section.  After a while this builds back up to the full song approach. After the next vocal portion they fire out into a killer instrumental segment.
Drum Solo - The Spider
As the title indicates a drum solo leads us off here. I have to say, I’m not a huge fan of drum solos – and this one doesn’t change my opinion. It’s not bad, but to this listener (with a couple notable exceptions) once you’ve heard one drum solo you’ve heard them all. There is an unusual section of this solo, though, where there are sequencers going off. The drum solo portion of this is in the five minute range. Then they launch out into an ELP like jam that gives way to a violin dominated section. They work through a whole series of alterations in this cool journey. After working through this instrumental drums close this just as they started it.
Closet Chronicles
In some ways this is essentially a powered up progressive rock ballad. Still, they weave some killer fast paced instrumental work and plenty of changes into it to keep it from being categorized as a mellow song type piece. We get some great showings from everyone on this, but I think the keyboards and violin tend to shine above the rest.
Down The Road
A big chunk of this track is a straightforward rocker with southern rock leanings. Still, they throw in a couple scorching progressive rock instrumental segments.  I can’t help it, though, parts of this remind me of Charlie Daniels.
Sparks Of The Tempest
Starting with a creepy laugh, this is an extremely straightforward rocker that could have been done by any number of 1970’s hard rock bands.

Bringing It Back
The main song structure on this is again mainstream rocker, but they definitely through enough prog stuff in (in the form of a killer instrumental section) to keep it interesting.
 
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