KANSAS – 4/5/2024 – Massey Hall, Toronto

Although KANSAS’ “50th Anniversary Tour – Another Fork in The Road” is a celebration of the American ensemble’s glorious past, the line-up which graced Massey Hall, the venerated Ontarian venue, during this road trek might well be pointing towards their no less promising future. To say the septet featuring relatively new and returning members, as well as replacements, all reducing the collective’s average age, sounded invigorating would seem like a serious understatement. The band’s entire dynamics have changed, even visually, and still it’s the same band, so there’s a great continuity, and integrity, to their concerts, and while mere mortals would allow themselves to wobble in the face of latter shuffles in the ranks, the wholeness of the veteran group’s presentation doesn’t get shaken.

Flanked with minimally moving six-stringers Richard Williams, the last representative of the original Topeka team, and Zak Rizvi, who recently came back on board after a three-year absence, with symmetry supported by Tom Brislin and singer Ronnie Platt’s keyboards, the ensemble center whence a lot of action emerged consisted on the evening of a temporary rhythm section, bassist Dan McGowan and drummer Eric Holmquist, and violin player Joe Deninzon, who’s been inhabiting the role for a year – and it was this axis that never ceased to surprise. As Holmquist laid down a powerful groove, Deninzon flitted between his colleagues and microphone – peeling fiery licks off his primary instruments, electric and acoustic alike, intoning and switching to guitar from time to time – yet McGowan not only kept the sophisticated rhythms but also took up an amazing, for his only fourth outing with the band, amount of vocal lines, including those delivered solo. Just as unexpected, if not more, came hearing the clarion voice of Brislin, not exactly known for his pipes, which became a tangible strand in the group’s heavenly four-part harmonies – strangely, they never went for a five-part panorama – required to do onstage justice to most of the pieces the magnificent seven perform, from opener “Belexes” to, of course, the encore of “Carry On Wayward Son” and many other gems.

However, for all the mass favorites on offer – a feature in the semi-acoustic portion of the show, “Dust In The Wind” appeared as but one of those – it’s deep cuts that brought aficionados the deepest delight. Whereas getting into the swing of “Hold On” and “Play The Game Tonight” or “Fight Fire With Fire” felt natural, listening to “People Of The South Wind” and “Down The Road” – let alone the first number of the collective’s first album, the fifty-years-vintage “Can I Tell You” – turned out to be transporting. Factor in the coupling of 1975’s “Icarus – Borne On Wings Of Steel” with “Icarus II” from 2000 demonstrated the conceptual continuity of the ensemble’s oeuvre, and having 2020’s “Throwing Mountains” aired alongside such milestones as “Point Of Know Return” and “Song For America” stressed this progression. Yet those classics are staples of the veterans’ repertoire, which isn’t the case with “Reason To Be” and “A Glimpse Of Home” – two out of three tracks from 1979’s “Monolith” dusted off for the current tour – and the set’s unpredictability guaranteed the audience was riveted for two hours straight.

And a band capable of doing that after five decades in business should indeed carry on being the event of any season.

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