Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Kansas – Point of Know Return Live & Beyond

Kansas made their name as one of the mainstays of 1970’s/80’s US rock. They’re usually bracketed as being classic rock but what they play is a touch too complex. This is given due to their penchant for longer songs, especially ‘live,’ where they tend to veer more into prog, with extended performances. They don’t have the pomp of Styx, or the grandeur of Yes, coming across something like the US equivalent of Gentle Giant and, alongside Curved Air, remain one of the few rock bands able to use violin effectively.

Point of Know Return was originally released in 1977, right in the eye of the maelstrom which was punk. At the time when Kansas were at the peak of their powers, following on from Leftoverture and prior to Monolith. It’s an exciting album featuring some virtuoso playing by the band, and it went platinum four times over and, despite this reviewer not having heard the original album for quite some years, it still sounds as good as when originally released.

Now being released as a 2CD ‘live’ album, it features twenty-two songs drawn from twelve shows across the US during 2019-20, with several classic tracks (‘A Song For America,’ ‘Miracles Out of Nowhere’) plus some deep cuts (‘Lonely Wind’ from their 1974 debut album, and ‘Cold Grey Morning’ from 1995’s Freaks of Nature) – followed by a complete performance in the original running order of the Point of Know Return album; which was the main reason the fans attended in such numbers .. and there’re still two original band members in the line-up.

The eponymous title track opens and it’s a story based on a seafaring journey, with the mariners wondering at what point will they know they’ll not be able to return? Point of Know Return is a kind of concept album with the theme of depression at its core and lyrics about the futility of life. The quality of the musicianship here is exceptional, with complex interplay between guitar and keyboard being made to sound effortless on tracks like ‘Sparks of the Tempest’ and ‘Closet Chronicles.’ ‘Lightning Hand’ is early prog metal before the genre was known, and ‘Spider’ is a keyboard driven instrumental where Tom Brislin channels his inner Keith Emerson to good effect. However, the biggest applause is reserved for ‘Dust in the Wind,’ with its sparse arrangement and cheering message of life having no meaning and we’re all “just dust in the wind”. Written originally as a finger-picking exercise on an acoustic guitar, it’s a song which has reached iconic status in the US. ‘Nobody’s Home’ features some mournful violin and lyrics about the state of mankind, and the performance concludes with the achingly beautiful ‘Hopelessly Human,’ its optimistic lyrics a counterbalance to the pessimism of Nobody’s Home, with the bells at the end adding an optimistic touch. The set ends with a rousing ‘Carry on Wayward Son,’ a long time staple of US rock radio.

This is a release packed with intelligent and complex prog and classic rock, with some intricate arrangements, solid rock and some surprising twists. The only downer is that since being recorded, guitarist and songwriter Zakk Rizvi has left the band. His successor has big shoes to fill.

Laurence Todd
Took early retirement after many years as a teacher in order to write books as well as about music. A long-time music obsessive, has wide and eclectic tastes but particularly likes prog rock and rock in general. Enjoys going to gigs and discovering new acts.

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