The members of Kansas came up with a novel idea to promote 2016’s “The Prelude Implicit,” its first new studio album in more than 15 years. To get the new music across to its most dedicated fanbase, the longstanding prog and pop band needed to present it with some very old yet very popular music.
Then the plan hatched to couple touring promotion of “The Prelude Implicit” with songs from the breakthrough Kansas album “Leftoverture,” which was released 40 years earlier. Thus a new age with a new Kansas lineup was inaugurated.
“We just wanted people to hear ‘The Prelude Implicit,’” said guitarist Rich Williams, one of the two members to have remained with Kansas throughout its entire recording history (drummer Phil Ehart is the other). “But how were we going to put butts of serious, die-hard Kansas fans in the seats doing that? We were playing fairs and casinos and that was fine. But we really wanted to reach to our fanbase, so we thought, ‘Okay, it’s the 40th anniversary of ‘Leftoverture’ and we’ve never played the album in its entirety. We’ve never done an album tour before in any way. So what if we made this the ‘Leftoverture 40th Anniversary Tour.’ That would give us our audience, where we can also send the new album.”
“The Prelude Implicit” is the first Kansas studio album to feature Ronnie Platt, who stepped in for retiring lead vocalist Steve Walsh in 2014. But the record’s sound — huge, anthemic and built around clusters of guitar and organ but colored by violin and very prog-ish lyrics — is largely indistinguishable from the music of “Leftoverture” that made Kansas a star attraction four decades earlier.
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“We wanted the sound to be quintessentially us,” Williams said. “We wanted to make an album fans would want to hear, from the artwork to the type of material to the variety within it. We’ve never been just one thing. We wanted to have that variety, even from the lyrical content. Everything about the record is Kansas. We’re not reinventing ourselves.”
When we started to get into the final stages of recording ‘Leftoverture,’ there was a consensus this could be a game-changer, that this album was definitely a step above what we had previously done.
Rich Williams, Kansas
But what of revisiting “Leftoverture” for the current tour? The album has hardly been absent from the band’s concert repertoire, especially since it contains one of Kansas’ biggest hits, “Carry On Wayward Son.” At the same time, one of the album’s lesser known tunes, “Questions of My Childhood,” has never been performed live until this tour. Taking on the album as a whole, though, was hardly a nostalgia ride. It allowed Kansas members new and old to celebrate a recording that cemented much of the band’s commercial and artistic popularity.
“When we started to get into the final stages of recording ‘Leftoverture,’ there was a consensus this could be a game-changer, that this album was definitely a step above what we had previously done,” Williams said. “It all fit together. It all made sense. But the truth is, if it hadn’t been for ‘Wayward Son’ and the album breaking on the charts, it could have well been the last Kansas record.
“We had signed a terrible record deal because we had to pay back all these costs — recording costs, studio costs, tour support costs. All of that came out of our meager portion of record sales. When ‘Leftoverture’ went gold, that paid back our past debts. Had that not happened, would Don Kirshner (the ‘70s rock impresario who was head of Kansas’ label, Kirshner Records) have sprung for another record? I don’t know. We might have had to look for another deal somewhere else. So ‘Leftoverture’ was a very critical record for us.”
The happy ending to this is that the tour devoted to “The Prelude Implicit” and the 40th anniversary of “Leftoverture” has done so well that it has been extended by nearly a year and will next month yield the release of a concert recording, “Leftoverture: Live & Beyond.” It has also presented a template the band will return to in 2018. Kansas plans to record another new studio album in January and tour will with it next fall with a program that will celebrate the 40th (well, technically, 41st) anniversary of the band’s other multi-platinum recording, “Point of Know Return” and its landmark hit, “Dust in the Wind.”
“For a lot of years, people in the band were touring but didn’t really want to. Their hearts weren’t really in it. They didn’t want to do some of the old material. They didn’t want to record new material. We were really handcuffed from moving forward as much as we could. But now we have people who really want to be here.
“We just did an album, we’ve been doing this tour, we did a live album from this tour and we’re working on a new album and a new tour for the years after that. That’s what happens when you have a team on the field that really wants to play.”