Kansas: Setlist – The Very Best Of

Prog-rock and boogie from the arena heartland of America

The Legacy division of Sony continues to explore new ways to keep the CD relevant. Their Playlist series was the first out of the gate with eco-friendly packaging that used 100% recycled cardboard, no plastic, and on-disc PDFs in place of paper booklets. Their new Setlist series follows the same path of a single disc that provides an aficionado’s snapshot of an artist’s catalog. In this case the anthologies turn from the studio to the stage, pulling together tracks from an artist’s live repertoire, generally all previously released, but in a few cases adding previously unreleased items. As with the Playlist collections, the Setlist discs aren’t greatest hits packages; instead, they forgo some obvious catalog highlights to give listeners a chance to hear great, lesser-known songs from the artist’s stage act.

Kansas was among the most commercially successful prog-rock bands of their time. Their intricate arrangements, complex time signatures and instrumental chops echoed the works of EL&P, King Crimson, Golden Earring (check out the bass line and drums on their cover of J.J. Cale’s “Bringing it Back”) and the whole of the UK Canterbury scene, but the muscle of their Midwest rock looked equally to the jams of the Allman Brothers. The combination of brains, boogie and relentless touring propelled them to stardom on album rock radio stations and made them a tremendous arena draw. The ten tracks collected here are drawn primarily from the band’s peak years of 1975-1978, and all but two (a 1980 performance of “Dust in the Wind” and a 1982 performance of “Play the Game Tonight”) are previously released.

The core of this set is drawn from the live album Two for the Show, and its 2008 expanded reissue. Additional tracks were picked up from expanded reissues of Kansas, Leftoverature, and Song for America. Though fans are likely to have all the expanded reissues, the previously unreleased version of “Dust in the Wind” is worth picking up. Recorded a year before vocalist Steve Walsh left the band, it’s a moody and emotional performance with a moving extended violin solo by Robby Steinhardt. As one might expect from a prog-rock band playing arenas in the mid-70s, the tracks expand to upwards of nine minutes, and though there are fleeting moment of Spinal Tap bombast, the boogie grooves keep the jams jamming. [©2010 hyperbolium dot com]

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