CONCERT REVIEW: Radio staple Kansas rocks 40th anniversary performance

It was 1970s classic rock at its best Saturday night as Kansas took the stage at Williamsport’s Community Arts Center. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, Kansas still entertains its fans with the same energy that has made the band a staple of classic-rock radio.

The evening got started with an opening act named Arc & Stones. The Nashville, Tenn.-based band kick-started the crowd with some soulful vocals and hard-edged rock ’n’ roll swagger. The hard rock trio is on tour promoting its sophomore release, “As You Were.”

After a brief intermission, Kansas performed its biggest hits without long-time lead singer and keyboardist Steve Walsh, who retired from the band this summer. The musicians acknowledged his departure from the group, but the Midwestern band didn’t miss a beat with new lead singer Ronnie Platt at the helm.

Platt was outstanding, with soaring vocals on such hits as “Carry On Wayward Son,” “Point of Know Return” and “Play the Game Tonight,” and his keyboard skills were just as impressive. Keyboardist soloist David Manion and the powerful guitar riffs defined the band during the progressive-rock era of the 1970s. But the distinct element that makes this band stand out is the violin, an instrument that David Ragsdale played flawlessly. The violin is a key ingredient in the band’s repertoire, but it took front and center during the acoustic hit “Dust in the Wind,” one of Kansas’ most identifiable songs. The guitar playing of Rich Williams and bassist Billy Greer, along with Ragsdale’s violin solo and Platt’s lead vocal, made this song the highlight of the evening.

You often can tell the professionalism and raw talent of an artist or band by how their music recorded in the studio translates to the stage. On this night, Kansas did not disappoint, as they are definitely one of the best live bands out there today. On many of the songs, I felt as if I was listening to the original recording, which is partly attributed to Platt’s contributions. In addition, remaining original Kansas members Williams and drummer Phil Ehart helped to preserve the original sound of a band that has been making music for four decades.

Featuring members old and new, Kansas still got the audience engaged in the music and energy. Whether they grew up with the music of Kansas or are discovering it for the first time, audience members young and old — myself included — will remember this performance for a long time.