Kansas still has it with ‘Leftoverture Live & Beyond’

By Michael Piwowarski, photographer

Yes, Kansas is not only the name of the 34th state, but also the name of a band. Just recently, on Nov. 3, Kansas came to perform at Saginaw’s Dow Event Center as part of their Leftoverture 40th Anniversary tour. On the same day, they also released a new live album titled “Leftoverture Live & Beyond.”

In case you are not familiar with Kansas, they are a classic progressive rock band from the state after which they are named. They are mostly famous for their iconic 1970s hit “Carry On Wayward Son,” which has been played to death on classic rock radio. “Dust in the Wind” and “Point of Know Return” were also well-known Kansas songs. If you look more closely at their discography, they have put out a lot of albums over the past four decades, most of which have largely been overshadowed by other musical acts at the time. Despite this, Kansas has garnered a loyal following, which they still have to this day, because of their unique style combining hard rock and southern rock influences with progressive rock, heavily inspired by the likes of Yes and Genesis, with prominent keyboard, synthesizer and violin parts. Generally, if you’re familiar with Yes or Genesis, you should mostly know what to expect from a Kansas album.

“Leftoverture Live & Beyond” proves that Kansas has stood the test of time, as far as classic rock bands go. Over the years, they have gone through several line-up changes. A few years ago, long-time lead vocalist Steve Walsh retired from Kansas and was replaced by Ronnie Platt. Other founding members have been replaced over the years, with guitarist Rich Williams and drummer Phil Ehart being the only original members left in the band.

Despite these changes, Kansas still sounds fantastic and maintains much of the musical energy that they had back in the 1970s. Ronnie Platt may not sound the same as Steve Walsh, but he is still an amazing vocalist, and as someone who attended their show at the Dow Event Center, I can tell you that Kansas still sounds very tight and well-rehearsed when performing live. The same is true for this new live album.

This two-disc set features most of their setlist from their Leftoverture 40th Anniversary tour, which includes a complete performance of their 1976 album “Leftoverture” and a selection of songs from other albums. If you missed their show at the Dow Event Center, this album has that concert’s entire setlist, with the exception of some acoustic songs that they played at the very beginning (which I’ll get to later).

Disc one consists of a selection of songs from the classic albums “Kansas,” “Song for America,” “Masque,” “Point of Know Return” and “Somewhere to Elsewhere.” It also features a few songs from Kansas’s most recent studio album, “The Prelude Implicit.” Disc one closes off with “Section 60,” a moving instrumental piece that was written by the band in tribute to all the men and women in the military who lost their lives during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Disc two contains every track from “Leftoverture,” played in order and starting with “Carry On Wayward Son.” Honestly, when comparing this to the original studio album, I think that the new Kansas did a splendid job with this performance. Every track sounds virtually spot-on, aside from Ronnie Platt’s slightly different singing voice. Some people have complained about autotuned vocals on “Carry On Wayward Son” when it was released as a preview track. I beg to differ, because after listening to the whole “Live & Beyond” album – not to mention being at one of their shows in person – I barely heard any autotuned vocals, if any. Sure, there are bits and pieces where you can hear some autotuning, but if you listen, you’ll be able to tell that Ronnie Platt and the other vocalists do not need autotuning; their singing sounds great as it is.

Also, I really like the concept of performing an entire album during a live show. It gives you the opportunity to put all the deep tracks in the spotlight as well as the hits. “Miracles Out of Nowhere,” in particular, is one of the best songs from the album, with interesting lyrics, varied backing music and great instrumental parts. Finally, after “Leftoverture” is finished, they close off the show with an encore of “Portrait (He Knew),” from “Point of Know Return.” This makes for a perfect live track because of its opening, where the audience gets to clap along as the song’s memorable Hammond organ riff starts.

My only complaint about “Leftoverture Live & Beyond” is that it doesn’t have the opening acoustic pieces that I heard at their Dow Event Center show, before their main setlist. The Kansas concert opened with the band sitting on chairs, playing unplugged arrangements of softer-sounding songs like “Hold On” and “Refugee.” I think this opening set sounded amazing, and that they should have included this in the album, but maybe it’s being reserved for future bonus track material.

Overall, if you are a Kansas fan, I highly recommend “Leftoverture Live & Beyond.” If you aren’t as big a fan of Kansas as you probably are of “Carry On Wayward Son,” I still highly recommend this live album. It is a showcase of some of the band’s best works from the past four decades. It also sounds excellent, even for a live album, and the band still sounds great after all these years. You can get the album on Amazon and Best Buy now for a pretty good price. If you’re interested, Kansas’s studio albums (including the original version of “Leftoverture”) are definitely worth checking out as well.

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