Steve Morse - guitar; Greg Robert - keyboards, background vocals; Steve Walsh - vocals; Phil Ehart - drums; Billy Greer - bass; Rich Williams - guitar
Upper Darby, Pennsylvania is a collective mix of Irish Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Virginia blue-collar working class. The township borders West Philly, and when a rock band plays the "Tower" it can jam up traffic for hours. Halfway up the hill on West Chester Pike, three blocks north of 69th Street Terminal, glows the marquee of the Tower Theater. Its rich history is painted thick on the theater's cracked walls. The Tower's stage has served as a viable proving ground for many of rock's alums, including Bruce Springsteen, Hall & Oates, David Bowie and on this night, Kansas.
"Pennsylvania discovered Kansas long before any other state in the Union," tells Phil Ehart, founding member and principal drummer of the Topeka spawned group. "We'd be out on tour opening for somebody and we'd have a headlining opportunity and it would be in State College - we'd have another and it would be in Philadelphia or Allentown or Harrisburg. the whole state just seemed to get it." Pennsylvania was a close second home to the six original members of Kansas, a refreshing reminder of the Midwest farms they grew up on. Logging over a hundred trips between Philadelphia and Pittsburg, the band played every farmhouse, bar and local dive on the college/club circuit. As their statewide popularity spread from New Jersey to Ohio, Kansas found themselves selling out sheds long before "Dust In The Wind" set the world on fire. To honor such devoted fans, Kansas recorded much of their 1978 live release, Two for the Show, at Philadelphia's Southside Spectrum, while the steel-town of Pittsburgh saw the band sell out the Civic Center two nights in a row, breaking Elvis Presley's record.
February 14, Valentine's Day 1989, introduced fans to a new era in the Kansas chronicles. Famed Dixie Dregs guitarist Steve Morse supplemented the band's loss of original member Kerry Livgren. Greg Robert filled in on keyboards and backing vocals, giving vocalist Steve Walsh freedom to seize the role of frontman. Bassist Billy Greer now occupied the vacancy left by Dave Hope, and Kansas was operating without their trademark violinist, Robby Steinhardt. "We didn't have the violin, but we had Steve Morse," pronounced Ehart. And so it was with aggressive confidence that Walsh led the five-piece on to the Tower dais with one thing to prove: Kansas was back, and wasn't going anywhere. With a sure-fire set list that had been pounded out weeks before the group reached Philly, Kansas blazed through a number of their cherished standards. "'Magnum Opus' gave us the chance to warm up," recalls Ehart, "and while we played the intro, Steve Walsh would be down in the audience, dressed in disguise and sitting with the crowd. Right before we kicked into "One Big Sky," he would jump up, stand on his seat and get hit by the spotlight. Then he'd start singing and people would just freak. It made for a great opening."
This particular night found the band performing in support of their current vinyl, In the Spirit of Things, a record Ehart proudly admits was his most rewarding. "It was probably one of the finest records we ever made as far as our writing and lyrical content." Complete with a conceptual story about a flooded ghost town in Kansas, the album was given an added push by the production talents of Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel). Toward the end of World War II, the small Kansas town of Neosho Falls was trapped in the wake of a flash flood. The story became local folklore and inevitably created an intriguing idea for a Kansas record. As quoted on the album's inner sleeve, "The flood came without warning and within moments all hopes and dreams were swept away forever." The plight, history and human tragedy of the devastated community inspired Kansas to create a fitting epitaph with In the Spirit of Things. "Guys were still out fighting the war overseas and their homes and families were wiped out with a flood. Very tragic. We applied that life experience in the record's lyrics; one day things could be very good, the next, they could turn for the worse."
Which was exactly what happened when In the Spirit of Things hit the stores. MCA, the band's label, had just undergone a massive restructuring. Within two weeks of its release, MCA's president dropped the album. Other acts signed to the same record company (most notably Elton John and Glen Frey), fell victim to the same corporate swath designed to clear room for MCA's next big push, Tiffany. The new Kansas offering stalled without label support, trailing behinds its predecessor, Power. Though the heavy musicality filled the parameters of the band's creative edge, the record's only hope to survive was on the road. "We had to put some muscle behind it," says Ehart, "so we put a number of the album's tracks in the set." New compositions like "One Big Sky," the instrumental "T.O. Witcher," "Preacher" and "House On Fire" saw their strength confirmed by their enthusiastic reception by a live audience, and next to the Kansas classics, became a legitimate part of the Kansas act. Morse's "T.O. Witcher" fit nicely as a lead-in to "Dust In The Wind," while "Preacher" and "House On Fire" carried the emotional impact of the Spirit tour.
The 1989 trek was the second full excursion for the Kansas lineup consisting of Steve Walsh, Steve Morse, Phil Ehart, Richard Williams, Greg Robert and Billy Greer. Walsh had returned to the fold after stepping out with his own band, Streets, from 1981-86. His skill and ability as an onstage leader gathered an even brighter light as he charismatically traversed the Kansas platform. In an effort to equal dispense time under the spotlight, each member was given his chance at center stage. The Tower show even coaxed an unusually reserved Steve Morse to the microphone, while Greer took over the band introductions.
Steve Morse added a new dimension to the Kansas team and made a powerful complement to the vocal front of Walsh. The accomplished guitarist brought in a wealth of ideas and novelties to the band creating a new platform for a group entering its second decade. Says the band's drummer, "It was a lot of fun to have him (Morse) in the band because he was just so awesome." Ehart goes on to say, "We had no idea before we met him that Steve Morse was such a big Kansas fan - he really dug the band. I ran into him at a Robert Plant concert and he said, "Hey, I hear you guys are lookin' for a guitar player, what are the chances?" I said, 'Come on over.' It was that unplanned. We knew it wouldn't last forever, but also knew it would be a hell of a run while it lasted." One adjustment the members found interesting was the influx of "guitar gods" coming out of the woodwork to watch Morse play.
This King Biscuit Flower Hour recording of Kansas at the Tower Theater exalts the stellar elements that brought an obscure band from Topeka, Kansas, up to international recording stardom. It stands as the third "live" recording organized by the group, and is a proud companion to Two for the Show (1978) and Live at the Whiskey (1992). The broadcast encapsulates the second of three complete entities that make up the history of Kansas, thus far. "We first heard the recording of this show years ago," reflects Phil Ehart, "and I remembered it sounding really great. That evening the band had an exceptional night playing and the recording was just as cool."
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