Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Kansas: A progressive state of mind or band of wooly hayseeds? More about that later, but first a little musical history. When Progressive Rock initially reached our fair shores from its birthplace in England, this strange new sound confused and frightened the untamed (and badly dressed) natives, as they scratched their heads (among other parts of their bodies) in bewilderment. Songs that went on longer than three minutes? Time signatures going every which way but straight ahead in 4/4? Lyrics about crimson kings, giant hogweeds and total mass retain? Fancy-shmancy classical overtones?? Dude, pass me another GIQ and crank up some Grand Funk! After all, even in 1976 when Prog giants like Yes and Genesis had already established a strong foothold in the New World, most bands in middle America just wanted to boogie down and tie one on. Yet, the Prog muse mysteriously seeped into the very heartland, and took root in – of all places – Kansas. You know, the place where Dorothy and Toto (the dog, not the band) lived. Also residing in the state of Kansas was the band Kansas. With an excess of beards, mustaches and long, frizzy manes, one could easily mistake these guys for wooly mammoths in overalls. However, our furry farm boys could really play their instruments. And when not indulging their Grand Funk Railroad-wannabe tendencies, Kansas could throw down with the best of any snobby British Prog rockers. If the lads in Genesis had been born hauling hay bales and milking cows in the Midwest, they probably would have sounded like much of Leftoverture. Epics “Miracles out of Nowhere” and “Cheyenne Anthem” chug along in their unique, chamber-music-meets-cow-pasture classicism – complete with fiddly-twiddly organ/synthesizer workouts from Steve Walsh and beautiful violin playing from Robbie Steinhardt, whose flights of bowmanship meander in and out of these sophisticated arrangements like a honey-soaked bumblebee. The overplayed “Carry on My Wayward Son” all but consigned Kansas to AOR oldies purgatory, but nothing could prepare the mainstream rock audience weaned on that track for the monster closer “Magnum Opus.” Let’s just say you won’t be hearing this slightly over-the-top, nearly ten-minute-long multi-part symphony at your next barn dance. Looked upon derisively by critics, Kansas nonetheless reached high and went far, harvesting their bounty with several more successful albums through the end of the ‘70s – until a New Wave came crashing down on all things Prog. At their peak, several members of the band were even asked to appear on former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett’s second solo album, Please Don’t Touch. Further evidence that these American farm boys could definitely hack it with the big boys.
Essential Tracks: “The Wall” “Miracles out of Nowhere” “Cheyenne Anthem” “Magnum Opus”