Nine years have passed since Kansas last trod the boards in the UK; a show that also took place here in the grandiose surroundings of the Empire.
Venue: Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Kansas live at Shepherd's Bush Empire
The words “anxiously awaited” are over used, but given Kansas’ failure to make it across the pond for last year’s 40th anniversary celebrations, it had felt as though they’d forgotten their small but faithful band of UK followers. However, drummer Phil Ehart told your correspondent that they were forced to play hardball with their booking agent: “It was almost like a direct order – ‘Get us into England’.”
Matters assumed more gravitas still with the announcement of founding lead singer/keyboard player Steve Walsh’s resignation following the group’s return to the US. The increasing unreliability of his voice was no great secret. However the cat was set among the pigeons when, shortly before arriving in Europe, Kansas hired Shooting Star’s Ronnie Platt (who can be seen singing Kansas songs on YouTube with a covers group called Arra) as Walsh’s replacement.
Are Kansas following the examples of Yes and Journey in going down the ‘tribute band frontman’ route? We still don’t know, but an interview for Prog’s sister magazine, AOR, was confirmed on the proviso that the subject remained off-limits. How strange...
However, if there is tension, it remains in the dressing room. Walsh, who now bears a facial resemblance to Genesis’ Mike Rutherford, performs as best he can given the natural depreciation of his God-given gift, and Kansas back him with their usual well-drilled professionalism.
The sound is great, ditto a setlist which, save for two songs from the 1980s (_Hold __On_ and _Fight Fire With Fire_), dates back to the group’s heyday of 1974-1977.
Walsh’s delivery is the sole letdown. He just doesn’t cut it anymore, not even close. A track such as Song For America or Icarus – Borne On Wings Of Steel begins all ornate and grandiose, a veritable symphony of sound, but as Steve moves towards the mic... Phhhttttt... the firework is extinguished. It’s hard not to feel sorry for the guy, although his voice actually picks up towards the end of a set that lasts for less than 90 minutes.
Finally, Walsh’s hangdog demeanour melts into a smile, and there’s little doubt that the fans have seen him off in style.
What happens next will be fascinating.