For Gazette music writer Brian McElhiney’s preview of this show, click here.
These old bands keep coming at you in full force, year after year. The surprise isn’t in the music — the songs and arrangements are the same and that’s how you want it — but in the sheer energy they generate on and off the stage, in this case after 38 years of performing.
Kansas played a rockin’ set at Alive at Five Thursday night in front of a packed crowd that ignored the swelter. For those who expected late ’70s pop tunes, they got that. But Kansas is a full-blown prog-rock band, maybe not of the professorial ilk of ELP and Yes, but a few notches above Styx or Boston.
They opened with “Magnum Opus,” an old instrumental with a spot of lyrics. They hit this hard, like a warning flare to the crowd.
“Thank you, good night,” bassist Billy Greer joked after the tune.
Then they surprised us with “Point of Know Return,” from 1977, an odd choice, given it was one of their three biggies and they already had the place in the palm of their collective hand. This is the quintessential Kansas anthem, about — what else — leaving mom and dad, physically and metaphorically, daring to peer into the darkness, stepping into the music.
Steve Walsh, the original singer, is still strong, and he sounded good, but not identical to the record, which is always more fun for the crowd. But he was awesome on the bridge, when he had to hit the high notes.
“Dust in the Wind” came soon after, giving us a quick break from the grandiose. It’s a beautiful song, and Walsh, with violinist David Ragsdale, sounded nice; you realized how unlike Kansas the song is — wonder why they didn’t layer it up years ago with big swelling sounds.
Barely halfway through the show they had played two of their three biggest hits. Good for them to use their trump cards early and rely on other strengths.
“The Wall” followed, from “Leftoverture,” a classic song from a classic album.
“What are we doing here? Are we out of our minds?” Greer said early on, jokingly referring to the heat. “We’ve already played more notes than most bands play in two hours, so we’re going to leave now.”
A lesser effort from the band and these jokes would not have worked.
Other notable oldies included “On the Other Side,” and then “Hold On,” both weaker than others, but still cool to hear, violinist Ragsdale leading the group through the amped-up crescendo.
Most of their songs played Thursday are sewn into parts of our culture — car commercials, the video game Guitar Hero, movie soundtracks, supermarket elevator music. Based on Thursday’s show, they’re more than holding on, they’re still generating.
And there’s the big one at the end, “Carry On Wayward Son.” Good end.
Spaceland opened the show, a fairly new local group led by three brothers. Sounding like their iconic influences — U2, Coldplay and the like — their original songs propelled forward nicely with steady, pulsing drums and bass, much of it good and catchy, but also predictable, which by some would be considered a good thing.
Their set was solid for sure. But they didn’t display a lot of nerve or energy, partly, I assume, from the heat, but also because their songs, buffed to a fault, did not push them, nor did they push their songs. Regardless, they sounded good, and exposure like Thursday’s show — pairing national acts with locals — makes Alive at Five that much cooler.
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