Sunday, June 29, 2008

JONNY LANG & KANSAS / June 28th, Muskegon, MI,

Rather than start off with my own review I thought I'd post the review from the paper this morning as it's not all that far off from my own thoughts.......
Review: Kansas, Jonny Lang
Posted by Kirk Carlson, The Muskegon Chronicle
June 29, 2008 00:10AM
David Ragsdale, violinist for the band Kansas, performs Saturday night at Muskegon Summer Celebration. Kansas performed before an estimated 12,000 fans.

Chronicle/Merrisa Ferguson
Blues guitarist Jonny Lang performs at Summer Celebration Saturday. Lang opened for the classic rock band Kansas.

Chronicle/Merrisa Ferguson
Yet again, the weather threatened to delay the concert. But there were no blues this time, until Jonny Lang came onstage. Guitar players beware, Lang is gonna make you jealous. He rips his guitar to shreds and makes it look effortless. And he's a triple threat: he writes, he sings and plays lead and he's been doing it since he was 15. The soulful quality of Lang's young voice is astounding; it sounds like there is age beyond his 27 years. He also has an incredible range that is breathtaking to hear live.In my view, Lang should have headlined his own night. I think the Summer Celebration staff created a very odd pairing by placing these two acts next to each other.
Attendance: 12,000.
Number of songs: 11.
Concert high: Listening to Jonny's sweet, dirty blues while a beautiful rainbow spread out over the stage.
Concert low: That he wasn't the headliner and that it had to end.
Kansas is not a blues group, nor do they use R & B in their music. In fact, that may be the only style they don't borrow from: they use classical, hard rock, folk, progressive rock and pop forms to create their own individual brand of music. For a small band, they sure pack a big sound. Kansas explores various mixtures of instrumentation to keep their concert moving. However, there was more than one time during their portion of the concert that I found my concentration waning.
Attendance: 12,000.
Number of songs: 15.
Concert high: The dramatic and inspiring opening to the concert: "Magnum Opus," "Musicatto" and "Point of No Return."
Concert low: Throughout most of the concert, the mellow crowd was quite unresponsive to the music. That's not how I recall the 1996 performance.
It was inspiring hearing Kansas's progressive rhythms and melodies, 30 years after they were originally written. Some of their rhythmic style I would still call "progressive" to this day. Compared to the last time they played here, their musicianship was still high quality, but their energy level was naturally lower than it was 10 years ago. While a handful of people were up on their feet moving, the majority of the crowd was sitting in their chairs or staying close to the beer garden. Highlights of the evening included Lang's soulful rendition of Stevie Wonder's "Livin' for the City" Kansas's inspiring rendition of "Dust in the Wind" even if the vocals were a little too high for the aging singer. I'm still struck by the strange pairing this evening. Lang and Kansas are like oil and water. Perfect by themselves, but unnecessary together unless you're making pasta.
I left the house and headed for Muskegon about 3:30pm. Last time I attended an event there several years ago (Lynyrd Skynyrd) there was a huge line waiting to get in and I was hoping to avoid that this time around with an early arrival. I got the truck parked right where I wanted to be and headed on into the grounds. The first thing I see though is a setup called Pork Chop Downs.....a pig racing deal. My curiousity got the best of me and because the next event started in 5 minutes I stuck around to see a half dozen pigs do one lap around a fenced in enclosure to see who could make it to the food dish first. Obviously the pig with the best memory is going to have an advantage with this setup. I watched a couple races and then headed off to get my ticket. Once I had my ticket I headed back to where the line was and was amazed to see it as long as it was. I ended up in just about the same spot to wait that I did last time.
We had an hour + to wait before the gates opened and a conversation started with the guy next to me who was there with his daughter and her boyfriend. We got to talking music and other topics and found that we had a uncanny number of things in common. He was a cool dude, about 45 I would've guessed and was amazed when his daughter told me later that he would be having his 60th birthday party July 2nd! We continued our convesation and ended up hanging out together the entire evening, right up front, hanging on to the fence that keeps the unwashed hodes from the band. Nothing in between us and the souce but the fence, the only way to experience a show.
Although there hadn't been a cloud in the sky when I left home by the time we had claimed our spots at the fence the sky had become dark and foreboding. The wife called and said there was a storm headed our way and it wasn't 5 minutes later that it was raining. As luck would have it where we were standing we were partially protected from the onslaught by the canopy over the band so although we got wet we didn't get beat up as bad as the folks back in the seats. Fortunately though, after a bit of delay things calmed down to a drizzle and the warm-up band, a local outfit from G.R, came on and played a pretty tight set. They were an enjoyable listen, the guitar player in particular caught my attention.
The weather continued to improve and just about the time that Jonny Lang and his band came out the sun popped thru the clouds and shed a bit of warmth on us damp creatures. Now first I gotta say that I have heard some Jonny Lang so I knew what to expect pretty much even though I don't have any of his CD's, yet. When he and his band just walked out on stage, picked up their instruments and broke into the first tune I was impressed and they played 3 or 4 songs before Jonny even came up to the mic to say thanks. They were there to play and play they did. While Jonny was doing a great job at the mic and on the guitar what really impressed me was his rhythm section. The drummer was freakin' awesome, very funky and his fills were impressive to say the least. Towards the end of the set he got a chance to solo a bit and I was in awe. The bass player too was fantastic. He played a 5 string bass and knew how to walk that thing all over the place. Very melodic work and fundamental at the same time. good good stuff.
It was starting to get dark by the time Kansas was ready to hit the stage and they too just came out and started playing with no introduction. It's been a long time since I've seen one of my all time favorite bands live and I was fired up to hear some of the good ole stuff. In that respect they did not disappoint, starting out with Magnum Opus and playing Cheyenne Anthem, Portrait, Dust In The Wind, and even a rockin' version of Down The Road during their set among others. Out of the original 6 members though only 3 were there this night. Phil Ehart on drums, Rich Williams on guitar with the ever present patch over the eye and Steve Walsh on Keyboards. Billy Greer on bass was to be expected as he's played with them since the 80's but I was disappointed that Robby Steinhardt was not on the violin. David Ragsdale had taken over that spot and although he did a splendid job I missed Robby's presense up front. I was also a bit baffled at first as to why Steve's keyboards were in the back, alongside the drums instead of up front and center like in the past but it became somewhat obvious why during the show. Now this is probably not fair cuz we're both 30 years older but Steve did very little moving around, only leaving the Keyboard pedestal once or twice all night to come towards the front of the stage. In the old days he was a dynamo, running all over the place and throwing himself into the performace 100%. More disturbing than that was the fact that he didn't do all the singing when it should've been him and in fact Billy Greer took care of the lead vocals on a number of the tunes that Steve originally did. The most disturbing thing though was his demeanor. It seemed to me as if he'd rather be anywhere than on stage playing Kansas tunes. He seemed disconnected to the whole experience, looking off into space when there was a keyboard break or fiddling with his hair.....kinda like someone waiting for the bus to get there so they could go home.
I didn't get a whole lot better vibe when watching Rich on his guitars. He too seemed disassociated with the rest of the band and spent most of the evening fiddling with his pedal setup and amps. I think I saw him smile once but other than that the word stoic comes to mind more than any other.
Phil on the other hand was a man on a mission and played his heart out all night and let me tell ya he still has his chops. Awesome drumming work. Both David Ragsdale and Billy did their part to carry the load and present a quality event. Billy was also the one that did the talking to the crowd and seemed to enjoy the enthusiasm of the crowd up front. All I remember Steve saying was Thank you after a number
So, while the music was certainly Kansas and played very well it wasn't like the old days. I know that's a damn stupid thing to say but it just bothered me that at least Steve and Rich seemed so out of it.......Given the opportunity to see 'em again next week I'd go but at this point I guess I'd consider them past the creative stage of their existance. No new material forthcoming, just there to play the old stuff we all remember and love. Certainly not a bad thing, I just hate to see it come to that for a group that's been a big part of my life since 1974.


Blogger Camarillo Brillo said...

Haven't seen Kansas since the late 70's...Johnny Lang, I have seen 1/2 dozen times....Fantastic performer and the best band...thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008 at 11:40:00 AM EDT  

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