With a constant rotation of past-their-prime acts coming through Las Vegas, you’ve got to pick your spots wisely when deciding which bands are still worth paying to see. Too often, veteran acts possess few of the pieces from their heyday, presenting a diluted version of their former selves, or the old dudes simply don’t have the chops anymore. But with progressive rockers Kansas entering their 40th year, original singer/keyboardist Steve Walsh, guitarist Rich Williams and drummer Phil Ehart still make up three-fifths of the lineup, and even violinist David Ragsdale and bassist Billy Greer date back more than 20 years with the band.
The set list pulled almost entirely from Kansas’ first five albums, released between 1974-77, incorporating both hits and deeper tracks. A choppy version of “Point of Know Return” early on brought notions that the show might be a dud, but the band’s timing and musicianship tightened up on “Song for America” and “The Wall,” as Williams jumped back and forth from acoustic to electric guitar, and Walsh showed he can still approach his vocal prowess of the ’70s. Of course, the violin remains the band’s central feature, with Ragsdale taking the spotlight on “Dust in the Wind,” which was tastefully performed without overblown excess.
For a group digging deep into its past, there was no contrived stage banter or incessant jamming, not even for classic-rock staples such as the Einstein tribute “Portrait (He Knew).” Cult favorites such as “Journey From Mariabronn” and “Icarus–Borne on Wings of Steel” were given little introduction, with the band instead letting the music do the talking, as Ragsdale’s violin, Williams’ guitar and Walsh’s keyboards all took turns heading the aggressive technical interplay.
Ending accordingly with the timeless “Carry on Wayward Son,” Kansas again avoided any temptation to pad the rock anthem, instead guiding it through its usual measures, concluding a nearly 90-minute performance that was genuine in every sense. ★★★☆☆