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Kansas - Two for the Show CD (album) cover

TWO FOR THE SHOW

Kansas

 

Symphonic Prog

4.23 | 160 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars One of the things I have always appreciated about Kansas is their ability to not only reproduce their studio sound on stage, but to often improve upon it. This album showcases the band at what would prove to be their peak, and at that peak they were very good indeed.

This double album kicks off with “Song for America”, and the music is just as vibrant as when it was first recorded in the studio, plus both Steve Walsh and Robby Steinhardt introduce some new vocal inflections, both up and down the octave scale. In my opinion Walsh’s keyboards here are even better than the original album, as he shows some real enthusiasm and well-placed emphasis during the various transitions.

Steinhardt’s violin seems a bit out-of-tune on “Point of Know Return” and Walsh seems a bit out of breath, but at the time of these recordings this was probably one of their better known songs, and the slight letdown has only become noticeable over time.

“Paradox” is dead-on in execution all around. Steinhardt’s violin and Walsh’s vocals are near perfect, and Livgren actually cuts loose with some guitar work that is even heavier than the studio version. I don’t know where this song fell on the play list, but the band was definitely warmed up by this point.

One of the songs the band played live fairly frequently in the 70’s was “Icarus – Borne on Wings of Steel”. It’s a great tune because it showcases all the band’s many talents: Walsh and Steinhardt both sing extensively, with Livgren even kicking in on a chorus or two (not that there are really choruses to speak of on this song); Ehart’s drum work is tight, crisp, and almost overly energetic; and Dave Hope makes his presence felt on bass like nowhere else on the album (except perhaps “Magnum Opus”). Steinhardt and Walsh have this interplay of keyboards and violin that I’ve never heard duplicated anywhere else but with this band; Rich Williams is in the process of perfecting his ‘meatwall’ guitar sound and is amply augmented by Livgren; and Dave Hope has this really funky bass line that fills in well between Ehart’s drums and the rest of the band. Other than Steinhardt adding in a few flourishes on violin, this is almost a note-for-note reproduction of the original. Not that this is necessarily the hallmark of a good live album, but for such a detailed work I think it’s impressive that the band has little trouble repeating it in front of a live audience.

The heavy double-barrel keyboard lead-in to “Portrait” by Livgren and Walsh is something I’ve seen in concert myself, and the crowd really gets off on this. Today I guess they would have to dumb this one down a bit with only one keyboardist and Williams picking up both his and Livgren’s old guitar parts. It’s probably safe to say this one will rarely or never be played live again, but you can really feel that on that stage and that day, the band was really digging it. Ehart’s drum changeups are even more impressive when you realize he only had this one take to get it right. There’s a guitar riff that cuts loose toward the climax that is just intense here – not sure if it’s Livgren or Williams, but I’m leaning toward Williams. Nothing progressive about this one – just a damn good rocker. This kicks right into “Carry on Wayward Son”, with the three-pronged vocal harmony of Walsh, Livgren, and Steinhardt framing the upcoming hit perfectly. My only complaint with this recording over the years is that the band seems to rush through this one, almost as if they want to punch the Top-40 ticket and move on to the songs they’d rather be playing. Fair enough, but had they realized that this would be the only legitimate live release of their formative years, I wonder if they would have put a bit more into it.

Steinhardt introduces “Journey from Mariabronn” by saying “we’d like to take you back to the very beginning, back to the first album. We’d like to do a song – we hope you remember, entitled Journey from Mariabronn”. Kind of funny actually, because this was right at the time when the band’s reputation was exploding across the U.S., and I’m guessing less than one in five people in the audience had actually heard this song before. But this one leaves a great impression as it showcases the melodic side of Walsh’s voice, as well as the more abstract side of Livgren’s songwriting. I gotta’ believe the band sold a few back-catalog albums just from including this in the live release. Walsh does some keyboard noodling on this one that adds about a minute to the original, and at eleven minutes only Magnum Opus is a longer track. Today the band usually operates under a tight timeline in concert, so this is another song that’s unlikely to be played on stage again any time soon.

The uber-famous “Dust in the Wind” drags on forever, and is the only song I would have preferred wrapped up sooner. At nearly three minutes longer than the studio version, this is also I believe the longest version of this song ever recorded. Most of the extra time is spent with Walsh ‘ooo-ing’ in the background while Steinhardt extends his violin parts, plus Livgren drags out a couple more minutes with some California Guitar Trio-like acoustic rambling. It’s some interesting finger work, but I’m not really sure it adds much to the album. One other comment - I believe in concert and on Point of Know Return Steinhardt plays the violin parts over Livgren and Williams on acoustic guitars, while the lower viola part is a recorded track. On the studio album you really don’t notice this, but in the live setting it’s really apparent, as not only the pitches are distinctly different, but the recorded quality of the violin is noticeably different than that of the viola part.

The Walsh-penned “Lonely Wind”, also from the band’s debut album, leads in with some really beautiful keyboards (Walsh), and his voice is sharp as hell. This would be the only single released from the album, and it managed to make it about halfway up the U.S. rock charts.

“Mysteries and Mayhem” is from Masque, and a song I was never that fond of in my younger years. But I’ve come to appreciate that this is a nice blend of the band’s more progressive tendencies and their bar-band rocking roots. This one has some heavily blues-influenced guitar work with very little violin (actually none, I think), and Walsh and Steinhardt alternating the lead vocal duties. I could actually see this one being played with a couple of 70’s go-go girls gyrating in the background and a water-bong working its way down the front row. God I miss the 70’s!

The little snippet from “Lamplight Symphony” seems more like filler to me. I love this passage of the song, but really wish they could have found their way to include the whole song, or replace it with something completely different.

“The Wall” is the most distinctively Kansas-sounding song the band has in their catalog. This is a very faithful reproduction, almost note-for-note from the studio version.

(One note here – on the original album there is a pretty decent version of “Closet Chronicles” that has been cut from the CD version to make the two vinyl albums fit on one CD. I would have preferred the extended “Dust in the Wind” were cut instead, but considering that is the band’s biggest hit ever, I suppose that wasn’t an option).

The grand finale is “Magnum Opus”, and the band pulls out all the stops, with spacey keyboards all over the place, the guitar peaks just thundering and the valleys almost pin- drop quiet. Each of the band members gets in one or two short solo bits, and the whole things climbs to the kind of self-indulgent feedback-and-drums climax that was so typical of that era. Walsh belts out a “thank you, and good night from Kansas”, and we’re done.

One other note – if you can possibly get your hands on the vinyl version instead of the CD, the gatefold and liner pictures in that larger size are really interesting. They show the band in various concert settings that really capture their meteoric rise to fame during the 1976-1978 period. Tiny postage-stamp photos inside a jewel case just don’t do justice. Unfortunately for me my original vinyl was stolen years ago and all I have today is a lousy reprinted cassette version with no liner notes whatsoever.

The thing that frustrates me most about this band (other than their string of bad career moves in the 80’s) is that there aren’t more albums like this available from the pinnacle of their career. Kansas has always been a great live band, and the fact that there is little live material available between 1974 and 1992 is a real shame. There’s the Vinyl Confessions tour video, a couple songs on King Biscuit collection CDs, a handful of heavily reproduced bootlegs, and this – that’s about it. I keep hearing that Two for the Show will be remastered and re-released, but am still waiting for that. This is one of the premier live albums of the 70’s, and the only truly representative live work of Kansas at their finest. If you like live albums in general, are interested in seeing and hearing the mood and feel of the late 70’s captured in a time capsule, or just love this band, this would make an excellent addition to your collection. Four stars.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |

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