If 1977 had a Cup Final for American lite prog-rockers, the semi-finalists would have been Styx, Journey, Boston and Kansas. Styx sucked Illinois horse cock, Journey was for mullet and TransAm-owning candy-asses, and Boston only had one decent album (No. 2 was a rewrite of the same corporate crap). This left Kansas, an interesting cabal of bored KU super-noodlers, with a record contract—inked by Don Kirshner, no less. They were worlds different from the aforementioned coke-snorting party hippies, they actually gave a crap about Native Americans (a rarity in pop music), wrote some decent tunes and even rocked pretty hard before punk inevitably came along to obliterate them.
I recently rediscovered Kansas when I heard a bar band play "Portrait (He Knew)" at the Irish Mist in Sunset Beach (no mean feat, that). My Ozzy-tribute-playing drummer had to remind me what band it was, then it all came flooding back. What was my high-school-junior cousin thinking when she laid those Kansas eight-tracks on my extremely impressionable 13-year-old self? See, the thing about eight-tracks: they don't stop, they just keep replaying over and over again till you get it, kind of like Chlamydia. So with the eight-tracks long gone and one trip to the library's CD section later, I found myself re-examining songs indelibly stamped on my subconscious and finding some really nice moments: the gonad-squeezing bridge in "Point of Know Return," the majestic synth-y instrumental break in "The Wall" (three years before Floyd's, by the way), and the aptly named "Magnum Opus." Sure, there are the hits—"Carry On Wayward Son" and "Dust in the Wind" (both still infinitely better than "Come Sail Away" or "Lights," eewhh!!)—but there's depth far beyond these. Check out 1976's Leftoverture and 1977's Point of Know Return first. I don't know too much about the '80s output and probably don't need to, so you're on your own there. Plus, they played my old boss' homecoming dance at KU in the early '70s—how could you not love them?
Kansas at the Grove of Anaheim, 2200 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 712-2750; www.thegroveofanaheim.com. Fri., 8 p.m. $35-$40. All ages.
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