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Kansas stuck in past, and audience loves it

Tuesday night was (essentially) a greatest hits night at Artpark. Kansas, a classic rock band with a huge fan base dating back more than 30 years, came out onto the stage and ran through a batch of audience favorites with plenty of aplomb. The crowd, the first of the new season, seemed primed, and the pit in front of the stage was packed with folks eager to see the band up close.

The venue's new policy of charging a small admission ($5 in advance/$10 at the gate) for the Tuesday show, a change for what used to be a free concert, didn't seem to deter people from attending. Another factor probably playing into the size of the audience was the weather, which, while hot and humid, was also blessed with a slight breeze.

Kansas has been touring as a quintet for quite a while now, but for such a long-lived band, they've actually managed to keep three of the original members on board for this tour, and the other musicians have been with the band for a few decades. Steve Walsh, the keyboard player and main vocalist, along with guitarist Richard Williams and drummer Phil Ehart have, with brief spells apart from the group, been with the band from the beginning, while bassist Billy Greer (who also sings lead upon occasion) and violinist David Ragsdale hopped on the bandwagon a bit later.

Onstage, the group was relatively static. Walsh would leave his keyboard position at times to move center stage and sing, while Ragsdale was the most kinetic, Ehart was locked into his kit, and the rest of the band staked out their own pieces of real estate and stuck to them.

The band members are all talented musicians, but they were playing from a set list that seems to have been carved in stone for most of their current tour. If anything, it seemed as if they were playing it safe, picking out riffs that were new decades ago and that remain new in the hearts and minds of their acolytes refusing to introduce changes that might disrupt the calculated flow of the program.

"Dust in the Wind,", "On the Other Side," "Point of Know Return," "Hold On," "The Wall," etc., etc. -- everything just fell into place, each riff, each pause, each crescendo. It was good, but it lacked a certain visceral excitement, the kind of thing that replaces a memory in the process of creating a new one.

Still, it is hard to say the concert was without value because there were moments when a brief turn of phrase, a change in rhythm, a uniformity of purpose hinted at the excitement Kansas used to come up with more frequently. That's why it is easy to say it wasn't a bad show, but it just wasn't a terribly impressive outing. They just seem to be cruising in third gear when they still have two more they can shift into.

Marcangelo Perricelli's band opened up the concert with a set heavy on progressive rock atmospherics. The music hearkened back to the days when bands like Pink Floyd and Yes roamed the stages with lithe grace, skirting the edges of elephantine bombast with skill and flair.

Perricelli sang and played keyboards to tunes with titles like "From Within" and "Now That You're Gone." Guitarist James Piper provided the most impressive moments of the set, powering licks over Perricelli's sonic backdrop and the rhythm section of Rick Catanese and Keith Welch locked into the rhythms.