Photo | Michie Turpin
Kansas is (from left) Richard Williams, Billy Greer, Zak Rizvi, Phil Ehart, Ronnie Platt, David Manion and David Ragsdale
Date: Thursday, Dec. 6, with doors at 7 p.m.
Venue: Saenger Theatre, 6 S. Joachim St., www.saengermobile.com
Tickets: $42-$112 (VIP available); available through Ticketmaster
Progressive or prog rock could be considered one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most mysterious yet prolific subgenres. Marked by grand orchestras sometimes delving into jazz and symphonic sounds, prog originally laid its roots in the U.K. with such iconic bands as King Crimson and Jethro Tull. Once prog made its way to American shores, Kansas helped bring the genre into the mainstream through a number of successful albums, starting with its self-titled debut.
Since 1974, Kansas has released 15 studio albums, with 2016’s “The Prelude Implicit” the most recent. Of all these releases, none is more beloved to diehard fans and casual listeners then the band’s 1977 “Point of Know Return.” For 40 years, this album has resonated through the American psyche through radio and pop culture. Now, Kansas is celebrating the album’s 40th anniversary with a tour run that will bring the entirety of this iconic album to life on the Saenger stage.
When asked about the timeless nature of “Point of Know Return,” guitarist Zak Rizvi only needed four words to explain the album’s success: “Dust in the Wind.” While he notes “Carry On Wayward Son” was also a hit single, Rizvi says “Dust in the Wind” remains Kansas’ megahit and never ceases to bring audiences to their feet.
However, Rizvi’s love affair with “Point of Know Return” goes far beyond the album’s radio hits.
“Outside of just picking one song, it’s an incredible record,” Rizvi said. “It’s one of the more experimental records. It’s got a real wide variety of music on it. There’s these short, concise songs and others that are big, long epics. There’s a little something for everyone on it. I think that’s one of the reasons that it’s hung on like it has.”
With two years of experience as a guitarist with the band, Rizvi is the newest addition to the Kansas lineup. For Rizvi, joining Kansas has been a rock ‘n’ roll dream realized. A Kansas fan since his mid-teens. Rizvi says “Carry On Wayward Son” was his first exposure to the band. A heavy metal fan at the time, Rizvi admitted he “wasn’t crazy about it” at first. He said it took almost a year for Kansas’ American-made prog rock to find a spot in his musical taste.
“I find with more complex music that it takes a little bit longer before it sinks in,” Rizvi said.
Eventually, his high school band director attempted to turn Rizvi away from heavy metal with the predecessor of “Point of Know Return,” the 1976 release “Leftoverture.” In the years that followed, Rizvi says he saw the band live “40 or 50 times” and wore out his share of Kansas albums.
While he can list many engaging aspects of Kansas’ overall sound, Rizvi says the arrangements are a starting point for him.
“The music itself, for me, exists on another level from other rock music,” Rizvi said. “It’s so impeccably crafted and well-written. I also love the orchestra aspect of it. There’s six or seven guys onstage. Everybody is playing something different, but it all works together. It’s the writing and the arrangements that are the things that I love most.”
Little did he know he would become a part of Kansas’ rock legacy. In 2001, he loaned his guitar to the instrumental prog rock band 4Front, which had recently released a debut album to positive reviews. One day, Rizvi received a random phone call from “a guy who owned an independent music store.” According to the guitarist, this individual had been reading Rizvi’s bio and discovered he was a Kansas fan. This store owner’s encouragement laid the foundation for Rizvi’s eventual entrance to Kansas.
“He was actually the person who put the idea in my head,” Rizvi said. “He said, ‘Right now, Kansas is a five-piece. I think that you would be the perfect sixth guy for the band.’ I was completely shocked that a stranger would say something like that to me, but he got me thinking.”
Rizvi’s next step was connecting with Kansas drummer/manager Phil Ehart. After submitting samples of his work, Rizvi says, he received a positive reaction from Ehart, who said the band had no plans for a new album at that time but suggested they keep in touch. In the years following, Ehart gave Rizvi concert tickets and the two became better acquainted.
Fifteen years later, Rizvi received an offer from Ehart. Kansas was making preparations to record “The Prelude Implicit” and needed a core producer. Rizvi got the job. Over the two-week recording process, Rizvi says, he began establishing chemistry with the rest of the band. After the album was completed, Kansas asked Rizvi to join its ranks. Since then, he has reveled in his time onstage with one of his favorite bands.
“It’s been everything and more,” said Rizvi. “I remember that I was so petrified the night before my first gig. I just wanted to fly home and just call it a big mistake. I was literally so terrified. Now that we’ve been doing it a few years, it’s just incredible to get to go onstage and play some of my favorite songs of all time with some of my favorite musicians of all time. So, it has been everything that I could imagine, and much more.”
When Kansas takes the stage at the “Jewel on Joachim,” Rizvi says, the band’s live delivery of this classic album will be filled with overwhelming “energy and heaviness.” This performance will be a 2 1/2-hour exploration of “Point of Know Return” along with some extra deep cuts. As far as what those surprise cuts might be, Rizvi suggests fans explore the band’s online setlists from previous shows on this tour. However, he teased there would be “some classics, including one song that has never been played live before.”
Rizvi says the band will be returning to the studio as soon as the current, highly successful tour breaks.